by Keith Bassham
The United States Army thought they were going to enlist Arthur Carrell Weber. In his schoolboy-appearing cursive signature on the draft registration, the “o” appeared to be an “a.” Never mind, though. Subsequent documents settled for the initial “C,” and Arthur C. Weber was just what the army was looking for in central Oklahoma, only a few months after the U.S. entered The Great War in 1917.
The registration card on file says Arthur was of “medium” height and “medium” build. No limbs or eyes were missing. The occupation line attests he was a 22-year-old farmer, not married, and working for his father, a German immigrant named Joseph Weber, living on a plot of land about five miles north of Luther, OK, northeast of Oklahoma City, where the family had settled a few years before.
The next May, Arthur, alongside about 3,000 other men in the 108th infantry, shipped out to Europe and joined the rest of the 27th Division, who were scheduled to relieve British forces. In the fall, the 108th attacked the Hindenburg defensive line in the Somme Offensive, breaking the line and helping to end the war. In October they were relieved by other forces, and by March 1919, the entire division had returned to the States. During its service in World War I, the 108th sustained 1,763 casualties including 1,432 wounded, 256 killed, and 75 who later died of their wounds. Arthur C. Weber was again a civilian farmer by June. He had contracted spinal meningitis, but was otherwise unscathed.
Arthur C. Weber returned from war much as he left, with his “medium” height and “medium” build, and with limbs intact. He went on to live his life and make himself useful to his community in many ways. He married and had three children. His daughter is my mother.
Most everything I have written in the above lines was unknown to me when I was growing up around my grandfather, Arthur C. Weber. Aside from a photo or two of him in uniform, I was unaware of his early life experiences. It may be just as well, given my youth. I could begin to make some connections through images and live news coverage from Viet Nam when I was a little older, but it was just a beginning. I did not feel loss myself.
A few days ago a blogger wrote about war and loss. Musing on the millions who died in World War I, and on those left to pick up the pieces, he compared their experience with those of his own generation, the ones who witnessed the September 11, 2001, attack on New York City. He wrote of the Lost Generation — those who lost life in the war, and those left who experienced great loss. Today, he said, we have another Lost Generation, courtesy of 9/11.
Thankfully, the comments following the post reflected appropriate outrage. One critic followed a quotation from the blogger’s complaint with a satiric, “Also sometimes Netflix doesn’t load very fast these days.”
Let’s do some real thinking here. The first day of the Somme Offensive (an earlier one, the one that happened in 1916, not 1918), the British alone suffered 60,000 casualties.
In. One. Day.
Total U.K. losses by the end of the war numbered 888,000. No wonder, then, that the British spend far more emotional energy remembering WWI than they do WWII, when their losses were about half those suffered in the first war, not to mention when they came closer to suffering defeat.
And let’s not forget the influenza epidemic of 1918 that occurred near the end of the war, and its abnormally severe effect on younger adults then. Half the flu deaths occurred among those 20-40 years old, the same demographic suffering the most war losses.
So there really was a Lost Generation, but they seemed not to let their lostness affect them much. They had little time for self-pity, and to complain about things less severe than trench warfare, mustard gas, and pandemics seemed silly. They managed to push themselves through a massive economic depression and another World War, going on to become what we call the Greatest Generation.
The War to End All Wars did not, but remembering war and the resultant massive casualties, and comparing those things with our realities, may stop some complaining.