For this week’s look back at West Liberty history, I’ve selected Veterans Day observances over the years.
As most know, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day. In 1919 on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, an armistice, or temporary cessation of the hostilities, was declared between the Allied Nations and Germany in World War l.
A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. The occasion went on to be observed not only in the United States, but in many other countries as well. The day featured parades and public gatherings, as well as a brief pause in business and school activities at 11 a.m.
The day became a federal holiday in 1938.
In the aftermath of World War ll and the Korean War, in 1954 there were lobbying efforts by various veterans’ service organizations. Congress amended the 1938 act, striking the word "Armistice" in favor of "Veterans." President Eisenhower signed the act on June 1, 1954. From that date on, it was a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Here in West Liberty, on Nov. 11, 1924, one of the very first (if not the first) Armistice Day was observed.
Plans had called for a "practical suspension" of business hourswhile everyone gathered at the double program at the new playground park. In the afternoon all would attend the West Liberty vs. Wilton football game at the Fairgrounds. School was not in session that day.
As it turned out, the weather was not as they’d hoped, thus preventing the planned outdoor program celebrating Armistice Day and the dedication of the new playground park. Instead, all activities were carried out in the high school auditorium. A large crowd had gathered, and flags were displayed throughout the town. A general feeling of cheerfulness existed.
The American Legion sponsored the opening program at the high school, and in the audience were delegations of World War and Civil War vets, along with members of the Legion Auxiliary. The Auxiliary had only been organized two years earlier, in 1922.
After the invocation, the audience sang "The Star Spangled Banner." C.P. Slater, superintendent of schools, gave an address on the nature and purpose of the day, and in the course of which all faced east for a moment of dedication to those who were sacrificed in war. Roy Stephens, Post Adjutant, then read the roll of those of the community who had lost their lives in the World War, with Commander E.L. Hutcheson reading a brief sketch as each name was read.
During the dedication program, Superintendent Slater assumed the chair, and "America the Beautiful” was sung. State Senator D.W. Kimberly of Davenport, whose uncle the late Peter L. Kimberly had bequeathed the money, which made the new park possible, had been asked to deliver the address. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend because of illness in the family, so Robert Brooke of West Liberty spoke on his behalf.
Brooke’s talk was an especially fine one, as he spoke of the gift and gave the city’s thanks to the members of the Kimberly family. Brooke stated the name of the park would be the ‘Mary A. Kimberly Park’, in honor of the oldest surviving member of the family still in West Liberty.
Charles Mackey, City Manager, accepted the gift in a gracious manner.
The fifth and sixth grade children then sang a song of thanks, composed with the help of Rev. Lloyd Tennant. The drill the grade school children had prepared for the cancelled outdoor program was given in the gymnasium.
By 1926, a parade had been added to the day’s events. The parade left the grade school and marched to the corner of Third and Calhoun. Don Bemis, Legion Commander, posted the schedule in detail, with "zero" hour occurring at 10:55 AM when a siren would sound three blasts. At 10:57 a.m., an invocation was given by Chaplain Nye. At 10:58 a.m., two minutes of silence was observed, with a gun salute fired at 11 AM and then Taps was played. The parade would then proceed to the high school auditorium for the remainder of the program. The program consisted of an invocation, special music by the Auxiliary, readings, and an address.
In this year, besides the Legion and Auxiliary, participants included students, Boy Scouts, Spanish American and World War vets.
Armistice Day was observed on November 11 along most of the same lines as the years previous. The Auxiliary and schools helped plan a morning parade, followed by a program in the auditorium. The Legion drum corps played in the auditorium.
In West Liberty, Armistice Day began with the closure of businesses shortly before 11 a.m., as had been the custom, so all could attend the ceremony. A parade started from the West Liberty school grounds and included grade school students, their teachers, the local Boy Scouts and members of the Legion.
Cars containing Civil War and Spanish-American War vets, as well as ladies of the Auxiliary, the D.A.R. and W.R.C. and city officials were also in the parade.
The parade halted at the corner of Third Street and Calhoun, which had become custom. This was in front of the Post Office then, now it’s the Index office.
The entire gathering faced east for a moment of silence, followed by a gun salute by the Legion squad. Bugler Joe Chase played Taps. Following the ceremony of tributes, the parade resumed and continued onto the high school where the program was held.
Glenn Campbell, Post Commander, was in charge of the program. An invocation was provided by Rev. W.A. Smith. A baritone solo was performed by A.H. Ditmars.
Russell Nye, former West Liberty pastor and chaplain for the Mansell Phillips Post #509 who had relocated to Brooklyn, Iowa, was the speaker. Nye spoke favorably of West Liberty and his association with the post, and followed with an impressive speech.
The program concluded with the singing of "America."
The women of the Auxiliary served dinner in the Legion rooms that evening to ex-servicemen, their wives and/or mothers. An excellent time was had by all.
In preparation for the event, the Auxiliary had completely renovated the rooms above the Polders Shoe Store (now Liberty Press) where the Legion and Auxiliary were meeting at the time. They repapered them and ‘placed them in spic and span condition’.
In 1931 Armistice Day was again observed, the program beginning with the Junior Band playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. An invocation followed by the post chaplain, then remarks by the Commander, and a reading.
The address on this occasion was provided by Harold Wilson, Muscatine County attorney. Wilson had fought in the World War and was also a Legion member. Then ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ was played by the band.
The parade that day followed the usual route, and included grade school children carrying small flags, the Boy Scouts, vets, and other organizations. After the whistle at the creamery sounded three blasts, the customary moment of silence was observed, with all facing east.
Ex-servicemen, their wives, mothers and fathers were entertained at a dinner in the Masonic Hall dining room that evening, served by the women’s auxiliary.
Again, on Armistice Day, a parade and ceremony was held, with Legion members at the head of the parade, marching ahead of the school band. Following the band were teachers, grade school pupils with their flags, and a car carrying George Foster and C.F. Regnoir, two of the three remaining Civil War vets in West Liberty.
Upon arriving at the corner of Third and Calhoun, the Legion members halted briefly, stood at attention and observed a few minutes of silence in tribute to soldiers who had died. The crowd bowed their heads. The firing squad fired three volleys, and bugler Joe Chase concluded with Taps.
At the program, two numbers were played by the band before the meeting opened. Commander A.E. Ady and Post chaplain Paul Angerer did the invocation, and thanked the schools for participating. A patriotic reading followed by Leota Hildebrand.
Judge Emmet Delaney of Clinton had been previously engaged as the speaker for the day, but a short time before the program began, a message was received from him. It stated that he had been delayed and would be unable to arrive in time for his scheduled address. Therefore, Commander Ady introduced Harry Lewis and Paul Angerer, who gave interesting reminiscences concerning the first Armistice Day.
Lewis spoke of the intense firing which continued right up to the 11 o’clock hour, and of the vivid impression made upon him by the sight of a captain of the Marines who was crying because so many of his men had been lost in those final hours of fighting. Lewis also told of the sight of peasants trooping back to what remained of their homes in the battered French town where he was quartered the day the war came to a close.
Angerer explained the comradeship which existed among soldiers, and declared it glorious, but at too great a cost. He spoke emphatically in favor of peace but declared disarmament in favor of peace cannot assure it, and expressed himself strongly in favor of military training in our colleges.
At the conclusion of Angerer’s talk, Ady spoke of the fact that the local post was one of the two posts in the district to reach their membership quotas at the close of the drive on November 10.
Following the events of the morning, ex-servicemen and their wives were entertained in the Legion rooms, where the Auxiliary served a ‘particularly fine meal’.
Judge and Mrs. Delaney and their small son arrived in time for the meal, and at its close Delaney spoke to the Legion members. Superintendent Karl Smith, also a Legion member, also spoke briefly, and invited the crowd to attend the Armistice Day high school football game.
Schools were getting involved in the observance of Armistice Day. The fifth and sixth graders this year, with the fourth graders as visitors, held a program in observance of the day. Several pupils brought souvenirs from home, which were on exhibit all day. The most interesting portion of the day was a speech given by Superintendent Smith about his military service experience. The children also enjoyed some musical entertainment that day.
At the 1936 Armistice Day program, Principal Ted Arnold impressively told the story of the famous Red Cross service flag, which was made by the late Mrs. J.L. Peters.
Peters was a farm housewife and mother to Ernest and Chester, both servicemen. She used red, white and blue muslin to make the flag, which measured ten by twelve feet. Into the flags field went fifty-four blue stars, representing a Wapsinonoc or Goshen township youth who was in the United States service. As time passed and enlistments were increased, Peters added stars. When she finished, there were ninety-four more in the flag’s border.
In 1918, the Red Cross had alerted communities across our country that it was needing additional funds. A West Liberty resident came up with an idea to have an auction sale and ‘sell whatever folks will donate, but above all, sell the service flag.’
Townspeople responded generously, bringing in not only livestock, but also canned goods, baked goods, furniture and other items to auction along with the service flag.
The Red Cross Auction Sale was held March 23, 1918 and made a grand total of $13,500.
In 1938 the Legion moved out of the second story of Polders after they acquired their present location, the Harry Shipman building on Calhoun Street. Harry F. Lewis of the renowned First Division was the first Commander, assisted by Adjutant Chester Peters, of the famous Rainbow Division.
World War ll began in 1939.
The day’s observance was fairly similar to the previous years, with the march from the schools to the downtown area, the children marching in files, each carrying a small American flag furnished by the American Legion. The silent tribute, gun salute and Taps by Richard Wolters and Robert Black followed.
The program, again at the high school, featured a speech by Rev. L.L. DeFlon, followed by the singing of "America." Afterwards there was a bit of a surprise!
The curtains on the stage parted to show a group of high school students singing songs of the World War l era. Several of that war happened to be holding a reunion, and were enjoying the songs very much, until vets of the Spanish American War came forth and protested. The Spanish-American war vets claimed songs of their era ‘aroused more enthusiasm’, and were ‘more lasting’ than those requested by the World War vets. Their request for a few songs was fulfilled. After a discussion on the merits of all the songs, the playlet concluded.
At the end of the day an evening meal was served at the Legion Hall.
During the afternoon many attended the West Liberty versus West Branch football game in West Branch. Unfortunately, West Liberty lost, 25-0.
With World War ll having ended, on Armistice Day this year Legion and Auxiliary members, grade and high school students and other townspeople assembled at City Hall for a short program.
1952 - 1954
In 1952 the annual Armistice Day cooperative dinner was held at the Legion home on November 11, with 120 people in attendance. Mrs. W.W. Wheeler, a hospital field worker, gave a fine talk on rehabilitation, child welfare work and volunteer service at the VA Hospital. Mrs. Lyle Holmes gave a brief history of the local Auxiliary since its organization.
In 1953, the West Liberty Schools observed Armistice Day by dismissing school for the day. The ceremony was again held in front of City Hall. The program opened with the pep band playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, followed by three minutes of silence. Rev. G.L. Hufstader gave a short talk.
The Korean War ended in 1953, and now all vets of World War I, World War ll, and this war were invited to attend the Veterans Day event. The speaker in 1954 was Don Johnson, former Legion State Commander. Johnson was raised in West Branch where he’d owned a feed and supply store. In 1964 Johnson was named National Commander of the American Legion.
Johnson spoke of his recent ten-day trip to Europe where he inspected the facilities of Radio Free Europe. While there he made a broadcast from one of the powerful radio stations to the people behind the ‘Iron Curtain’.
1960 - 1969
As part of the schools’ observance of Veterans Day, in 1960 an all-school play entitled ‘Spring Green’, sponsored and directed by Mrs. Frances Bodie, was performed on Veterans Day.
By 1965, gala events such as big parades, speeches, and of course bands were taking place far and wide across the country to celebrate the day. In West Liberty, the high school band played a selection of marches in front of the firehouse. Townspeople proudly displayed their flags on November 11.
In 1969, John H. Nath,Sr was the post Commander. This year the Vets meal was held on November 9. The memorial service was again held at City Hall on the 11th.
Rev. Charles McCracken of West Liberty Presbyterian Church delivered the address. Mayor Neil Wicks issued this proclamation prior to the event:
"I call upon all citizens and business firms to observe Veterans Day with the proud display of the flag of the United States of America as a reaffirmation of our national unity, a rededication of our support to our Nation in her defense in the cause of freedom, and especially our recognition and appreciation of our newest generation of veterans whose willingness to serve the national purpose is in the finest tradition of our Great Nation."
1970 - 1975
The annual Vets Day covered dish dinner was held November 10, 1970 with sixty in attendance. James Dreibelbeis showed slides and spoke of his recent trip to Majorca as part of a Shriners group.
The Junior Auxiliary members decorated the tables in the patriotic theme for the dinner, and did the serving.
In 1971, the services were again scheduled for City Hall, but not on November 11. It was scheduled for October 25 instead. By an act of Congress, Vets Day was now observed on a new date, that being the fourth Monday in October. This was done to assure a three-day weekend. This year Commander Les Hines showed slides of the Arsenal.
In 1972, only a handful of people gathered for the occasion, and it was noted most were over fifty years of age. Commander Maurer pleaded ‘They have served with honor to fulfill the highest obligation of their citizenship. Our previous freedom has been preserved, thanks to gallant Americans who have willingly served under the flag of the United States.’ Maurer also urged flags be displayed.
In 1973, with the federal holiday still being the fourth Monday in October, thirty-two states had already declared that Nov. 11 would be their state holiday, Iowa being one of them. So this year the local Vets Day service was held on Nove. 12, as the holiday fell on a Sunday.
In 1975, the annual banquet and social hour was held on November 10. Guest speakers were John H. Nath, Sr, now the post’s service officer, and Wm. Potter, a service officer from the VA Hospital, Iowa City. They spoke of veterans affairs, and "provided information many vets did not know, but should know, for their own benefit," Commander Maurer said. A short memorial service was held on November 11 on the east lawn of City Hall.
The Vietnam War ended in 1975.
Gib Parizek, post Commander, issued an invitation to the entire community to participate in the Vets Day observance on Nov. 12. Veterans Day that year marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which officially ended the war.
Parizek said 'Our observance should begin with the flag of the United States on display in each home and business, not just in recognition of the veterans in the community, but as a reaffirmation of pride in America and our community contribution to a coast-to-coast expression of national unity."
The annual meal was held Nov. 11 at Legion Hall. The program for the evening was a report by Boys State participants.
1991 - 1993
In 1991, citizens gathered at Legion Hall to honor our vets, again with speaker John Nath, followed by a gun salute.
In 1993, thirty-five area residents attended the ceremony. Rev. Darwin Moore of the Methodist Church spoke.
2002 - today
In 2002, the traditional gun salute was done in the downtown area in front of the Legion building. Students of the West Elementary and West Liberty Middle School also held special celebrations. At the Middle School a new flag was dedicated to honor veterans.
On this occasion Andy Carter, Nichols resident and WLHS grad who had served in the Marines gave a speech at the Middle School.
Carter said ‘When it’s your turn, I know you’ll plot the right course. Stay involved with your country and communities, make it yours, and always do a little more than your part. Don’t settle for business as usual, don’t be afraid to try something new.’
"And please, never ever give up.?
Carter shared that Iowa is credited with the largest number of soldiers furnished in the Civil War from all the states. Muscatine County had the largest number from any county. Pike township had the largest number from any township.
Carter concluded "May the interest never diminish for this beautiful day of remembrance."
The Afghanistan War had begun the year prior, and the Iraq War would begin the following year.
For most of the past couple decades, Veterans Day observances in West Liberty have included a short program with a speaker and a gun salute outside of Legion Hall on Calhoun Street. Music and Taps has generally been furnished by school band members.
One exception was soon after the Veterans Memorial Park on Rainbow Drive was completed in the first decade or so of the new century, and the Veterans Day ceremony was held there, with light refreshments served afterwards at the Community Center.Several local residents have shared their Veterans Day memories of years past, including Marj Melick and JoAnne Christison who recalled walking down from the high school to the service. LetaMae Christensen remembered singing Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard anthems in music class. Kay Cline said on Veterans Day ‘We walked out to the flag pole, said a Pledge of Allegiance, and sang God Bless America, before going back into class.’
In the words of a Veterans Day speaker of long ago: “Armistice Day is celebrated by the entire nation and commemorated not only in name, but also in every true American’s heart. One can surely take a few minutes out of their helter skelter life and use those brief few moments for meditation on the supreme sacrifices that were made by the ones who did not come back.”