August 1914 was the most terrible August in the history of the world, as a bitterly cold east wind of war swept across Europe.
The Great War started with nationalist enthusiasm. The major powers of France and Germany had detailed war plans to ensure victory. The Battle of the Frontiers, fought for two weeks in August, was the first time that French, German and British forces confronted the strength of modern firepower. Half a century of military plans were pulverized in a wave of death from bolt-action, magazine fed-rifles, machine guns and cannon. France and Germany lost 300,000 men apiece in the fourteen days of the Battle of the Frontiers. On Aug. 22, 1914 27,000 French soldiers died in less than 24 hours- the bloodiest day ever in French history.
Two months after it began, the war of maneuver had ground to an ignominious halt. The Western Front, 440 miles of continuous trench warfare, was established where the armies halted in mutual exhaustion. The Western Front was a true “Hell on Earth.” Rats in the millions infested the trenches. Mud, boredom, filth, misery, hardship, poor food, lice and trench foot were constant companions. So was death.
For the next four years, the world suffered through the most terrible conflict in mankind’s history, and the horror was not isolated to the battlegrounds. Beginning in the spring of 1918, the Spanish Influenza broke out in Europe and the United States. By the time it finally abated in December 1920, an estimated 50 million people worldwide were dead.
The United States joined the fray in April 1917, 53,402 American servicemen fell in battle, and 63,114 men and women died of other causes- primarily from the Spanish Influenza.
The apocalypse that was the Great War finally ended at the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month of 1918, when the guns fell silent for the first time in 52 months.
Three years later, the United States of America brought home one of our Doughboys, eternally unidentified. With solemn ceremony, the “Unknown Soldier” returned to our nation’s shores. Transported across the North Atlantic onboard the U.S.S. Olympia of Spanish American War fame, he first laid in State in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. He was then laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery precisely to the moment three years earlier when the guns had fallen silent- on Nov. 11, 1921.
The pallbearers were all highly decorated veterans of the Great War, hand-picked by General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. Representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was Corporal Thomas Daniel Saunders.
Corporal Saunders had served with Company A of the 2nd Engineers, 2nd Division from 1917 to 1919. He was wounded at Chateau Thierry in July 1918. Corporal Saunders was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in action at Jaulny, France on September 12, 1918. With another soldier, Corporal Saunders cut his way through a barbed wire entanglement, led the advance into the Town of Jaulny, and captured 63 Germans! He was the recipient of the Croix de Guerre (with Gold Star) for leading a patrol under heavy fire on October 8, 1918 at St. Etienne-a-Armes (Blanc Mont), France – the French equivalent of the Medal of Honor. His commanding officer noted of Corporal Saunders: “This soldier has shown himself under trying situations to be far above his comrades, in all operations requiring alertness, coolness, and dependability, backed by fearlessness.”
Corporal Saunders was a Northern Cheyenne from Medicine Bow, Wyoming; and he was the most highly decorated enlisted man from the Cowboy State during the Great War.
Carried to his final resting place by an Indian Doughboy from the Cowboy State, to this day the Unknown Soldier “Rests in Honored Glory…Known But to God” in The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.