by Joe Scarry
I don’t know what induced Granddaddy Melker to serve in WWI. I know there was a lot of talk about patriotism, and the pressure on US people of German descent to prove their loyalty was especially strong.
I do know that my grandfather never said anything positive about the war, and that he claimed that he used to shoot his rifle up in the air, over the heads of the enemy.
The best glimpse I have into what he experienced there comes from a letter that I am holding in my hand right now. It’s dated October 18, 1918, and it was sent from Packerton, PA. I don’t know what day it reached my grandfather in France. In those days I suppose it would have taken a month to reach a soldier at the front. It probably didn’t reach him until after the wonderful news on November 11 that an armistice had been signed.
|Letter from home – closing days of WWI|
This is the thing my grandfather saved from World War I.
The letter is from the Lutheran pastor of the congregation Granddaddy Melker attended in Nesquehoning, PA. From the beginning, it is not encouraging:
It is about time I should answer your letters. I do hope that this will reach you; and again I rather hesitate to tell you all the news because it is none of the best.
What news? Does he mean news about how the war is going? Or . . . ?
I want you to be brave and bear it like a good soldier of Christ, always trusting in God for comfort and strength in all your trials and be diligent in studying his Word and use it as a lamp unto yourfeet while walking through this dark and sin cursed world.
(When I first read this sentence, I thought, ” ‘Good soldier of Christ’ — I wonder: how many times must he have heard this kind of talk to tell him to ‘suck it up’?”)
You have perhaps heard that our country is invaded by the plague called influenza or the “Grip.” It’s quite bad in some places.
So . . . the flu, right?
It has struck Nesquehoning too.
. . .
It has taken one of our members.
. . .
One who was very near and dear to all of us.
. . .
It is your sister Margaret.
|“WWI soldier reading a letter” from warhistoryonline.com|
The pastor’s letter goes on, and I think it’s worth trying to imagine what it might have been like to have been the person reading it, or the person writing it.
The letter continues for several more pages.
The message for me in this souvenir is that, no matter how much you think you know about how horrible war is, each additional personal account you hear from a veteran opens fresh dimensions of the horror.
I know Granddaddy Melker was a veteran for peace. I honor him today by thinking about what he experienced.
And that’s one of the reasons I’m supporting World Beyond War — with a #NOwar message this November, and with more messages in December . . . and January . . . and on and on . . . .
|Please support the #NOwar social media campaign from World Beyond War.|
Want to know why we need a world beyond war? Ask a veteran today.
It’s time for us to get honest about the true costs of war, including the long term health consequences for people who serve in the military, and the corresponding long-term costs that our society must commit to bear.
Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the “glories” of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .