It was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that an eerie silence fell upon the European countryside on that remarkable day in 1918.
In a drizzling rain, the German delegates joined the representatives of the Allies on a railway car in the Compiegne Forest, and signed the Armistice officially ending the First World War.
When Uncle Elver realized that tomorrow's date would mark the 88th anniversary of this event, he did not have time to research the names of the Tri County area's veterans who fought in the "War to end all wars." But, he was able to locate a sampling of Berks County men who served in Pennsylvania's 28th Division, "the Keystone Division."
According to the "History of the 28th Division," a large number of Reading area residents served in Company B of the 108th Machine Gun Battalion.
The Battalion was positioned in the vicinity of Hattonchatel on Nov. 10, 1918, and there was heavy enemy artillery fire. The Battalion was ordered forward to support the 109th and 110th Infantry Battalions in the capture of Haumont.
Uncle Elver's grandfather was part of the 108th Field Artillery, Sanitary Detachment, and his unit was also in the thick of things. During the Allies offensive in the Argonne Forest, he was hit with Mustard Gas.
Another local unit, the 111th Infantry, from Phoenixville, was heavily involved, as well.
On the morning of the Armistice, Nov. 11, the Battalion suffered many casualties. Though rumors of an Armistice had been prevalent in some units of the Division, the men of this Battalion had no idea of its imminence.
A portion of Company B was engaged with the enemy at 8:30 a.m. Company C was also engaged. It was not until about 9:45 a.m. that word was received that the attack was not to be made. At this time, a message was received that an Armistice had been signed, and was to take effect at 11 a.m.
Immediately upon arrival of the 11th hour, all firing ceased, and there was great rejoicing in the ranks on both sides of "No Man's Land."
In the last attacks by the 109th, many of the Regiment's ablest and most devoted officers and men yielded up their lives. In the last hours of fighting, the unit lost five officers and 159 men.
As news came of the war's conclusion, one of the soldiers in the 108th Field Artillery wrote, "our wireless picked up the message that the hostilities were over. It seemed to all as if a terribly heavy weight had been taken from our shoulders, and shortly afterward, all that could caught a few hours of sleep, the kind that they had not enjoyed for many months."
Over at the 111th, another soldier noted, "as the hour approached, desultory rifle and artillery fire continued until the very last minute, and then peace came at the stroke of 11 o'clock. Then, men knew not what to make of it - it was possible to walk in the open and not be shot at."
A sampling of the rolls of Reading area veterans assigned to the 108th Machine Gun Battalion includes: Cpl. Charles F. Lash (gassed Sept. 5, 1918); Sgt. Calvin Madara (also gassed Sept. 5); Pvt. Earl R. Bohn (wounded Aug. 19, 1918); Cpl. Stanley Schwisalor (gassed Sept. 5); Pvt. John J. Shuker (gassed Oct. 6, 1918); Cpl. Elwood Warner (Mohnton); Stable Sgt. Irvin B. Bitler; Bugler Floyd D. Fisher; Pvt. Walter L. Eshback; Pvt. Harold C. DeLong; and Pvt. Wilson E. DeLong.
Also representing the area in the 109th Infantry, Headquarters Company were: PFC. Lawrence H. Himes (New Holland); Pvt. Milton Klopp (Reading); Pvt. Carl Longacre (Pottstown); and Pvt. Frank Marshall (Sinking Spring).
Back in this area, when news of the Armistice reached local residents at 3 a.m., sirens sounded, gunshots were fired into the air, and pots and pans were banged in the streets. People rushed into the street in these early hours and celebrated as if it were mid-day on the Fourth of July! It is said that by 6 a.m. in nearby Phoenixville, the crowd swelled to over 4,000 merry-makers, and a full-fledged parade was in progress. Employees of the local Dettra Flag Company joined in the march, each bearing a U.S. flag.
Eighty-eight years ago, the Allies, which included Belgium, France, England, the United States and Russia, accepted the surrender of Germany, and peace returned worldwide. It was stated that a lesson was learned from the "War to end all Wars," and perhaps, for a few short decades, that was true.
From World War II through our present war in Iraq and Afghanistan, apparently, this planet has not found the secret to worldwide peace. But, it is men and women such as Charles Lash, Calvin Madara, Earl Bohn and Stanley Schwisalor who have helped to preserve what we have been fortunate enough to experience.
Others, such as John Shuker, Elwood Warner and Irvin Bitler, have done their part, as well.
Lest we forget, countless others, including Floyd Fisher, Walter Eshback, Harold DeLong, Wilson DeLong, Lawrence Himes, Milton Klopp, Carl Longacre and Frank Marshall, have paid a price for our freedom.
Politics aside, thousands of Americans have done their share, and continue to fight today's battles, so that we can sit in front of our TVs to watch programs such as "American Idol," "The Simpson's," and "Lost."
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Do something...fly a flag...visit a cemetery...shake hands with a veteran...if you're a member of the American Legion or V.F.W., go down to the club and buy a fellow vet a drink and raise your glass...but do something!
All this reminds Uncle Elver that during World War II, American G.I.s in England were reminded that they were the "4 Overs." -Over Paid, Over Fed, Over Sexed and Over Here. It was obvious that they had overstayed their welcome.
So, be the Good Lord willin' and the creeks don't rise, see ya next week!