…1918 was the agreed time for hostilities to cease in that “war to end all wars”.
I have never been one who has recorded many of our family stories. Although on reflection I wish that I had.
But among the few that I have remembered occurred in Baltimore, MD on an evening of October 11, 1918.
Exactly one month before armistice one night, my Great-Grandmother claimed to have a visit from some angels. They told her that her son was all right.
When morning came, and an Army officer knocked on her door, she told him that she already knew, that “the angels came and told me”.
2nd Lt Peter George Zouck was reportedly popular with his men. “Zouck” is a strange name to be sure. I heard that it is an old Norman name but never really researched it.
He was shot by a sniper, which was pretty common in the trenches. Let your head come over the top just a bit and …
Among the stories, in a letter home he wished that he could just have a bath. The trench was filled with rats and mud.
I can’t imagine what it was like for the British or French soldiers who had been there for 4 years.
He fought in the Meuse-Argonne which for America, was one of our biggest battles. He’s buried there.
Fast forward 10 years ago or so, and my cousin, sister, and I had a daunting task. We all converged onto Huntington, West Virginia – a town that will always have a place in my heart, to clear out the room of my Uncle Peter. We had exactly 2 days to clear out his last room – a room that held all that was precious to him.
We organized his things into 3 piles – that which we keep and disperse (or donate) , that which we toss, and that which we shred. Over 90 years of memories and things precious to him to be dispersed in 2 days.
My Uncle Peter was one of the first “90 day wonders” to go into the Navy after Pearl Harbor. Went to Annapolis for that transformation.
He ended up serving on an ammunition ship on the Murmansk Run. One hit with a torpedo and you didn’t have to worry about getting to a life boat. He said that at night while a young Ensign, he’d have watch and you couldn’t tell whether that wake you saw by the ship was dolphins or a torpedo. Whether to call General Quarters or let his shipmates rest.
Lex wrote some about his own father and that run.
When I was a kid he told me about coming up on deck during the war, the General Quarters alarm sounding, to man his AA gun when his ship was under air attack and seeing a Stuka dive bomber framed in the hatchway at the top of the ladder, growing larger, screaming as it came, the bomb coming loose, falling towards the ship, towards my father.
“Were you scared, dad?” I asked, maybe 10 years old.
“Scared?” he said with a grunt. “I was terrified.”
As for my uncle Peter, he never was the same after that war.
I can remember as a boy, living in Los Angeles, visiting him on weekends at the VA.
Painting was supposed to be therapeutic, and he left some beautiful, but somewhat disturbing, paintings.
As we were distributing Peter’s earthly possessions, we found a flag.
With one gold star.
After the Great War, the “war to end all wars”, the mothers of slain servicemen were offered the option of having their sons returned to the US, or they would be given free passage to Europe to visit their graves. Peter Zouck’s mother visited him in France.
We all agreed that my cousin’s son, a veteran of Afghanistan who saw his best friend blown up by an IED, leaving a wife and 3 small children – should receive that flag.
Update 11/12/19 1259 – I was interested in learning that the “Gold Star Flag” was a tradition started after WW1.
The Gold Star Mothers Club was formed shortly after World War I to provide support for mothers that lost sons or daughters in the war. A custom began in which families of servicemen hung a banner called a Service Flag in the window of their homes to honor those sons or daughters that were serving or had been lost. Therefore, the flag also became known as a mother’s flag. The Service Flag or mothers flag had a star for each family member in the military. Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, and those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.
Membership in the Gold Star Mothers Club is available to any American woman who has lost a son or daughter in service to the United States. On the last Sunday in September, Gold Star Mother’s Day is observed in the U.S. in their honor.