Throwback Thursday: Aged veterans pay tribute

August 31, 2018

Editor’s note: The year was 1918. America was embroiled in World War I, women were pushing for the right to vote, and a flu pandemic would soon devastate the country. Our Throwback Thursday takes a look back at our most popular stories from this month in history, from the quirky to the heartbreaking.

Today’s story comes from Aug. 22, 1918, under the headline “Camp Fire of 76th is Much Enjoyed: Aged Veterans Pay Tribute to the Young American Fighters Now Overseas.” Much like we revere the “Greatest Generation” today, the men getting ready to fight in World War I drew enormous inspiration from the Civil War veterans who had gone to battle before them. Over 285,000 men from Illinois fought in what people at the time called “The War Between the States.”

J. B. Sirois of this city presided at the thirty-second camp fire reunion of the survivors of the 76th regiment, Illinois infantry last evening in the First Presbyterian church.

With “The Battle Cry of Freedom” sang by all and played by Mrs. Mattie Bernier the meeting opened, followed by a rousing welcome to the men of 76th regiment from Rev. George McBlung of the First M. E. church this city. He spoke of this being a free city in a free land because “you men went out in ’61 and fought for freedom. The men of the civil war were just as brave as men could be; take for example the battle of Gettysburg. The men of the present war are brave men, but no nation had any better men than the ones who answered Abraham Lincoln’s call. The battle that you men fought are helping to win the present war.”

Captain N. A. Riley made the response to the welcome and brought to the public minds the scenes of 56 years ago, when the 76th regiment marched to the Fair grounds and was mustered into the service. There were no finer bunch of men than them. They went to the front determined to die to save their brethren. He closed by paying a tribute to the boys now doing service. “Let us pray to God that they may not die in vain. Everything worthwhile in this world is a cause for bloodshed.”

Miss Nelda Lueth’s solo “God Be With Our Boys Tonight” with the instrumental parts taken by Miss Edith Potter-Smith, organist, and Kenneth Rayer, violinist, was very touching.

Atty. A. E. Smith who was mustered into the service with the Home Guards recently spoke of the spirit of the 76th and he complimented the men assembled for that spirit because they gave us the nation, and made it possible to have such men as we now have wearing khaki in France and elsewhere. Now when he sees a service flag he knows that the stars in its field represent men pledged to stand united always and secure freedom. “Thank God for Jesus Christ that will crush the rule and teachings of that pagan nation. When this flag (he pointed to the stars and stripes) comes back, even if we lose a million men, it will mean freedom and liberty for nations.”

Atty. John A. Mayhew, a son of one of the comrades of the 76th, was called forth to speak. He stated that he was proud to be a son of one of the veterans and hoped his father will be as proud of him after this war (Atty. Mayhew is soon leaving for service.) “We realize more than ever what was done for our country by the 76th in ’61-’65. We young folks have lived a life of ease and luxury and have had a good time and we have not realized what has been done for us. Now we are being called upon to do the things they were called upon to do. Our boys are throwing everything aside and going into this war the same as those back in the sixtys. We are fighting the greatest military power ever invented. America is the country that must save the world’s Christianity and civilization.”

“There is only one business this country should engage in now–winning this war–then you and I can go back to our vocations.

“We must guard against German propaganda.

When the battle smoke is cleared away they will see this flag: the stars and stripes; waving for freedom and liberty for evermore.”

The comrades then had the floor and many of them took advantage of this opportunity to tell of the days of long ago and how proud they were of their songs and grandsons.

“Why the boys are going to war” was the closing reading given by Miss Willow Jerrain.

The singing of “America” by the audience brought the evening to a fitting close.

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