ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, on a Tuesday, November 11, 1918, what President Woodrow Wilson called the war to end all wars came to an end. The U.S. entered that conflict in 1917, when, as it turned out, it was almost two-thirds over. Nevertheless the war had a big impact on this country and on Columbia County. Approximately 1,700 Columbia County men, and a few women, served in the Army, the Navy or ancillary organizations during the war. For that reason, among others, the cessation of hostilities was highly welcomed in the county as it was throughout the US.
Four days previously, Navy Ensign Albert Bristol of Copake married his bride, Gladys. Immediately after the ceremony, bells began to ring all over the town. Some thought that because Gladys’ father was Hudson’s mayor, the couple was being given special treatment. The couple had an unusually long wait at the Copake train station on their way to their honeymoon in New York City. Once there, they found that no public transportation was operating, and they had to walk many blocks to the hotel. On arrival, they found that the reservation had not been kept and they had to look elsewhere; it turned out that everybody was celebrating the war’s end. But they soon found out it was a false alarm. November 7 was a false Armistice born of a misreading of a German wireless message.
Columbia County men from virtually every town served in the war, some as volunteers, others as inductees. In 1924, a home defense Committee of Columbia County published a book entitled “Columbia County in the World War,” containing 1,400 biographies and 1,000 portraits of soldiers, sailors, marines and nurses of the county who served in the war.
The county’s military personnel trained at Fort Dix in New Jersey, and at Camps Wheeler in Florida, Upton on Long Island and Hancock in Georgia. More than a fair number of the serviceman were immigrants. A few served in Allied countries’ armies such as Britain’s, Canada’s and Poland’s. Some of them became citizens while in the service.
The county’s soldiers, sailors and nurses came from a variety of prewar occupations and activities. Some entered the service while they were in college. Most left jobs and interrupted careers such as physicians or lawyers. Many were farmers, clerks or mill or factory workers. Nine Columbia County men bearing the family name Decker served in the war.
A number of servicemen from the county had the good fortune even though they were based overseas, to nevertheless be away from the battlefront. Others had not finished the training or were on way to the front when the armistice was declared, saving them from harm. Of course, most Columbia County military personnel fought in a variety of battle related positions or served on Navy ships.
Several Columbia County men made their marks as heroes. The French government awarded Cpl. Charles Britt, an infantryman, the Croix de Guerre and the US Army honored him with a Distinguished Service Cross. Britt’s recognition came for his swim under severe enemy machine gun and artillery fire in the Meuse River, to repair a footbridge. His actions enabled a patrol to cross the river and obtain important information about enemy movements.
Sadly, of course, the war took its toll on a number of county residents. Some were gassed by the enemy while were fighting. Many suffered battlefield wounds, and thirty-nine men were killed in action, while others died of disease. The virulent Spanish influenza infected many servicemen as it was also devastating civilians around the world. Analysis of the pandemic revealed that many contracted the deadly illness because they were living in close quarters; in fact servicemen unknowingly were major contributors to the disease’s spread.
If any part of your family lived in Columbia County at the time of the war you will find it of interest to look for “Columbia County in the World War” in your local library. The men and women discussed in the book deserved to be remembered throughout the county.
Information about other veterans will appear in next week’s issue.