On the morning of November 11, 1918, at 1:55 A.M., the telephone rang at the offices of the Chicago Tribune. An Associated Press operator delivered a news flash with the short message, “Armistice Signed,” and then hung up. Fifty minutes later, the U.S. State Department released the official announcement: Effective this morning at 6:00 A.M. ET, the world war officially ends. An Armistice signed by Germany in the 11th month, on the 11th day, and in the 11th hour of 1918 brought an end to the fighting in WWI.
In France, thousands of American heavy guns fired parting shots at that exact moment. WWI, also known as the Great War, resulted in more than 37 million military casualties and 8.5 million deaths worldwide. American Expeditionary Force (AEF) casualties numbered 323 thousand with nearly 117 thousand deaths.
As the news broke, a sleepy nation woke to celebrate! In Chicago, US Navy men (nicknamed Jackies) poured into the streets cheering. News reached the West coast just before midnight. Fireworks summoned residents in Oakland, California, to a party downtown!
With the fighting over, transporting troops home became the next big logistical challenge. Most soldiers made it home within a year, but a few thousand didn’t return until 1920. Every available ship, and a few seized German ships, helped to “bring the boys home!”
Not all the boys were coming home whole. The physical and emotional trauma suffered by the sick and wounded was astonishing. Legislation like the Adjusted Compensation Act; the Soldier Rehabilitation Act of 1918 (that provided prostheses for those who lost limbs); and the organization of the American Legion sought to help returning soldiers.
Among the many injured were Pvt. Anthony Kulig, 24, who spent 19 months at Walter Reed Hospital recovering from an amputated arm, a knee injury, and 52 wounds on his body. First Lt. John W. McManigal chronicled his injuries and others he observed during his time as a POW in a dramatic five-part series printed in the Kansas Democrat in 1919. He recalled one soldier in a POW hospital having both legs amputated without any anesthetic.
The development of an improved veteran healthcare system is just one of the legacies left to future military generations by WWI veterans. Do you have an interest in military history or have ancestors that fought in WWI? How did your hometown celebrate the Armistice? Tell us about it and search our archives at Newspapers.com!