At precisely 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11, bells and carillons across Georgia will be slowly ringing in commemoration of the 3,700 Georgians who died in World War One, “the War to End All Wars.”
Virginia Dilkes, the daughter of a WW1 sergeant engineer, has spent countless hours contacting churches, legionnaire posts, universities, cemeteries and locations with carillons throughout the state as well as various media to inquire about where bell towers are located in their communities as part of a nationwide grassroots effort known as the “Bells of Peace World War One Remembrance” in honor of the Armistice signed in 1918.
The centennial event, called 11-11-11 in short for the 11th hour of the11th day of the 11th month, calls for organizations across the United States to toll bells in their communities 21 times in local time in five second intervals.
For individuals or groups motivated to join the outpouring of respect for the 116,516 Americans who gave their lives in the war and the more than 200,000 who were wounded, there’s even an app which once opened before 11 a.m. a built-in timer will begin a countdown until “Bells of Peace” will toll from every device together in remembrance of when the fighting ended on the Western Front.
Ms. Dilkes told Global Atlanta that her commitment stems from her father’s participation in the war which he recorded in a daily diary and then rewrote in a memoir upon his return to the U.S. Her family has published the first-hand accounts in a book titled “Remembering World War One: An Engineer’s Diary of the War.”
Sgt. Dilkes volunteered for active duty following graduation with an engineering degree from Georgetown University three weeks after the U.S. declared war on Germany. He was assigned to Company F of the American 1st Division, which was commanded by General John J. Pershing and he fought in all the battles in which his company engaged.
As an engineer he often had to drop his shovel with which he was fortifying trenches to pick up a rifle and enter in combat. Although hostilities ended with the Armistice signed on Nov. 11, he remained in service as part of the U.S. occupying force in Germany until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on July 9 the following year.
In honor of the 4.7 million Americans who served in uniform during the war and the 2 million who were deployed overseas to fight, a U.S. World War One Centennial Commission was established by Congress in 2013 to provide a variety of educational programs and commemorative events regarding the American involvement in the war.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama serve as honorary chairmen. The national commission has several advisory boards including a history board on which Atlantan Monique Seefried, former chairman of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Board of Governors and founder of the Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education (CASIE), and John Morrow Jr., chair of the History Department at the University of Georgia, participate.
The Georgia World War1 Centennial Commission is composed of Scott Delius and Samuel Friedman of Atlanta; Rick Elder of Sylvania, Thomas Lacy of Peachtree City, Bill Wells of Dahlonega and Dr. Morrow. Thomas H. Jackson of the University System of Georgia is the state commission’s executive director.
Georgia was home to more WW1 training camps than any other state and by the war’s end had contributed more than 100,000 men and women to the war effort. Among the most active sites were at Fort Oglethorpe in Chickamauga, Fort Screven on Tybee Island, and Fort Benning in Columbus, which was founded specifically for training WW1 infantry. Souther Field in Americus was the site where more than 2,000 military pilots learned to fly.
The research surrounding the centennial has brought to light early 20th century racial practices in the U.S. of which the military was no exception. Consequently the engagement of African-Americans who fought in the war received little credit and records of their casualties were scarce.
Through the current efforts of historians such as Dr. Morrow, who is African-American, and academics such as Lamar Veatch, former state library director and assistant vice chancellor of library development and services, and R. B. Rosenburg, professor of history and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Clayton State University, the deaths of the African-Americans who perished in the war have been included in an interactive database that represents the latest effort to develop a comprehensive listing of those from Georgia that died in the war.
The core of this listing is the original Georgia State Memorial Book published in 1921, which held the names for approximately 1,200 Georgia military personnel that died of all causes during the war. A listing also was developed by the Georgia Department of Veterans Service containing some 1,900 names. The information for 700 of them, many of whom are African-American, were incorporated into the database.
Due to the research of Clayton State’s Dr. Rosenburg, the names and causes of the deaths of soldiers from the Adjudant General’s Death Cards also have been included. Additionally, monuments, memorials, and plaques throughout the state of Georgia are yielding names for the database.
According to Dr. Veatch of the 107,000 soldiers from Georgia who fought in the war, 35,000-36,000 were African-American with 1,200-1,300 of them dying in the war. He added that diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, spinal meningitis and influenza were responsible for approximately half of the soldiers who died including 700 African-American soldiers.
He told Global Atlanta that of the 3,700 total of Georgians, both whites and African-Americans, 20 percent died of wounds or were killed in action. For the African-American troops, that number is just above 3 percent because 96-97 percent of them died of diseases or accidents.
“You have to remember that by in large, ‘colored’ troops were overwhelmingly assigned to logistics (supply, transport, etc) and, with some notable exceptions, not on the front lines,” he added
The centennial also has highlighted the roles played by Georgians Eugene Bullard, the first African-American military aviator, and Moina Michael, a long-time faculty member at the University of Georgia, who became internationally known for her efforts to promote the red “buddy” poppy as a memorial to those lost in World War I and to raise funds to support veterans from all wars.
While the bells tolling across the nation are for the U.S. war dead, WW1 was one of the deadliest conflicts in world history claiming the lives of 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. Once the U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917, 4.7 million Americans served in uniform, 2 million fought overseas and 116,516 of them didn’t return home.
To learn more about the engagement of Georgians in WW1, go to the Georgia World War I Centennial Commission website.