Army veteran Aaron Bonds walked to the Armistice Day ceremony in Minneapolis Sunday determined to honor the veterans who served, including those who fought in WWI.
“They don’t seem to teach enough of that history anymore,” said Bonds, 69, who served in Germany from 1969-71.
The event commemorated the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day, the date World War I finally ended and many believed longstanding global peace was within reach.
“Humankind believed we had fired our last bullet in anger,” Kale Severson, who represents the area for the Minneapolis Park Board, told the crowd. “Every moment of peace we’ve enjoyed over the last 100 years was paid for by the lifeblood of those daughters and sons.”
They were among the hundreds who gathered in below-freezing temperatures at the ceremony, which was held at Flagpole Plaza, a memorial along a 4-mile stretch of Victory Memorial Drive. The drive is flanked by 568 trees, one for each Hennepin County resident who died in World War I.
Local officials spoke about the meaning of the cease-fire, which was signed in Compiègne, France. A minister offered blessings. Musician Robert Robinson sang popular and historic songs. The event — which also marked Veterans Day — had a local focus, as historians and officials recognized the county residents who died in the Great War.
“Each of these 568 was a life,” historian Steve Chicoine said as he shared names and biographical information of some of the fallen. “Their stories should be known.”
Chicoine said that 180 of those were killed in action, while another 60 were wounded and later died. About 260 perished from disease, while 60 died of accidents. All had their “lives extinguished when they were just beginning,” Chicoine said.
Though WWI began in 1914, the United States didn’t enter the war until 1917. Five million Americans served in WWI and more than 116,000 died; worldwide, the death toll exceeded 20 million, Chicoine said.
Historian Tina Burnside explained the significance of serving and what conditions were like for the 350,000 black soldiers who served. Even before the draft, many black men enlisted, eager to prove their patriotism. However, they served in segregated units, were often relegated to supportive roles instead of serving in combat and were disrespected in other ways, Burnside said.
“There was no ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” she said. “We should also acknowledge those African-Americans who served in the face of adversity and whose stories and faces are often unknown.”
Barbara Bach of Minneapolis said learning about local historical connections was “the most important part” of the day. “This is what grounds us,” Bach said. “[Chicoine] brought those people alive that are just names on a stone.”
To keep warm, the crowd held paper cups of hot chocolate and crowded around portable heaters. Many wore military uniforms. Others wore red poppies pinned on their hats or lapels.
Patrick Burns, a neighborhood resident and veteran, recited “In Flanders Fields,” the 1915 war poem that speaks of the bright-red poppies that eventually grew over the graves of soldiers who died.
The formal ceremony ended with a moment of silence across the plaza to commemorate the historic cease-fire between Allied troops and their final opponent, Germany.
It was a fitting location to remember the fallen. Completed in 1921, Victory Memorial Drive received state designation as a historic district in 2003. The 4-mile segment was revamped and then rededicated in 2011.
BJ Garlick said she came in remembrance of her grandfather, who was a military doctor during WWI. “I just love living so close to the parkway,” Garlick said. “I mean, the history. It’s wonderful.”
Charlie Maguire of Minneapolis said he couldn’t believe 100 years had passed since Armistice Day. It doesn’t seem like it could have been that long ago, he said.
“I think we lose sight of the really big world conflicts that punctuated so many lives,” Maguire said, adding that now there are many smaller-scale, ongoing conflicts, such as in Afghanistan.
Others simply said they came to celebrate veterans and thank them for serving. “Without them we wouldn’t have our freedom,” said Sherry Mattfield of Crystal.