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Column: 100 years later, remembering greatness

WORTHINGTON — You know how a father will stand in the shade of a tree on a front lawn, nearly out of sight, while a newsman interviews the man’s son in bright sunlight, expressing amazement and offering the son compliments for one achievement or another. The father nearly chokes with pride for his boy, but he says not a word.

I have had this experience doing interviews.

Our news and entertainment media have been leading us through several lavish, historic anniversaries lately —

The 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights bill —

The 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy —

The 50th anniversary of the murder of President Kennedy —

We are coming on another of these anniversaries. Aug. 4, 1914. One hundred years since the outbreak of World War I. It will be 2017 before we come to America’s entry into the Great War, but there will be a long focus in days ahead on that War to End Wars. We’ll hear “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Mademoiselle from Armentieres (Parlay Voux?),” and, “How You Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?.” “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning!”

That father standing in the background while the focus is on his son — the fathers from World War I did that. Those fathers only stood by while it was said their sons and daughters were The Greatest Generation. Parents beamed and kept their silence while praises were heaped upon the boys and girls who saved the world.

I’m not sure. Those folks from World War I also surely were a generation marked with greatness.

I was reading lately how they left Nobles County for war — a world war — Europe and North America and Asia and Africa. No one had ever heard of such a thing. America was about to move an entire army across the Atlantic Ocean. No one had ever done such a thing.

One contingent of young men after another was leaving Nobles County. May 1918. It was raining. Hard. Four Ellsworth soldiers-to-be crowded into a Model-T and rolled through mud to Worthington. There were 60 more men at Worthington — Worthington men, Brewster, Bigelow, Adrian, Dundee. Some of them wore Sunday suits with starched white shirts and neckties, for that was what you did when you traveled in that time. Worthington was the biggest metro area most of them had ever seen.

Families plowed through those muddy ruts as well to give their boys a troubled, proud farewell. Everyone stood in the drenching rain as the train left the Worthington depot at 11 a.m. They stopped at Heron Lake to pick up another rail car. St. James, another car. Mankato, still another.

Among the brave and loyal young Americans were a number who spoke to one another in German. Wie gehts?

Those families who stayed behind — they observed nine meatless meals every week so there would be bacon for the boys. They gave money in generous heaps to the Red Cross. They bought Liberty Bonds — Nobles County residents bought so many Liberty Bonds the governor came to town and awarded the county a flag for its Liberty Bond purchases. A ship was named Nobles. There were bond committees in every township and every town. (I bad both grandfathers in the bond sales campaigns in Bloom Township.)

Oh, the Farm Bureau was organized to direct the production of food for the troops. They organized Home Guard units.

Nobles County seemed notably blessed. When the armistice was signed, there was not one casualty among those who had boarded trains at Worthington. The Calvin family rejoiced. Before the week was out, their son/brother was reported dead. The army was slow in getting out word on those who gave their lives. In the final tally there were 27.

Fathers standing in the shade once again. No one thought of naming those first world warriors The Greatest. They crossed an ocean to join a war. They won that war. They fought with valor. They went on with their lives. The Greatest? This recognition was reserved for the sons. But never think in these upcoming anniversary years that the first were less than great.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.