Saturday, March 1, 2014

Over There! Over There!

 


"The War to End All Wars"

Europe had been at war for three years when in 1917 the U.S. 'doughboys' marched off to join them. Woodrow Wilson was president, and this was the war to 'make the world safe for democracy', the 'war to end all wars'. The patriotic mood enveloping most of the country was embodied in popular songs like Waltzing Matilda, Bless -'Em All, It's a Long Way to Tipperary, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding, and You're in the Army Now. The bravery and confidence of the men was perhaps most embodied in George M. Cohan's Over There. (Hear the song as it was sung in 1917 by Nora Bayes.)

A World (Not) Made Safe

On November 11, 1918, hostilities ended. The day became known as "Armistice Day" and later "Veterans' Day". President Wilson went to France to sign the Treaty of Versailles, but a historian later predicted "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years".

Over Here

And so it was that the boys who had 'packed up their troubles in their old kit bags' came home from the trenches of France.  Limbs gone, faces shattered beyond recognition, lungs scorched by poison gas, and shell-shocked, they came home to a different world than the one they'd left behind. Plastic surgery and prosthetics had advanced since the Civil War but only so far. The government made provisions for rehabilitation but individual potential was limited.

Some provision was made for vocational training, and vets and disabled vets were often given preference in obtaining employment. The Veterans Bureau Act of 1921 combined various agencies to provide services to veterans. Other laws followed to address employment and disability pensions. 

But despite memorials and medals, the original groundswell of patriotism waned. "Johnny" had come marching home to "Julia" who'd kept the homefires burning, but life would never be the same.

Enter Alan Ashley

Heir to Ashley Enterprises after the deaths of his parents on the Titanic, Alan Ashley was a child of privilege: prep school, Harvard, the creme-de-la-creme of society...until he met a shell that blew him into No Man's Land, leaving him permanently blind and scarred in body and soul. Back home after two grueling years of rehab in which he learned to dress and feed himself in the dark and to read Braille, he finds his fiancee unable to stay the course. "I can't marry half a man," she tells him. Then his profligate cousins see an opportunity to recoup their wasted inheritance and take him to court as unfit to take the helm of Ashley Enterprises. 

And that's just the beginning of the story! Hear it tomorrow in Alan Ashley's own words!

Links


Tomorrow: The Homefront

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