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Johnny Vardeman: Happy time celebrating end of World War I
Johnny Vardeman

Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, observed as Armistice Day or Veterans Day today in the United States.

Numerous activities locally mark the occasion. While it was advertised as The Great War and The War to End All Others, obviously it wasn’t that as this country has gone through other “great wars” since, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and now the wars

in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the wake of those conflicts, World War I has been almost forgotten except in history classes and the occasional interview with a veteran, all of whom now have died, according to Wikipedia.

The Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University is remembering. It is the theme of its Family Day at 1 p.m. today and a forum featuring University of North Georgia panelists at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The history center also has a special exhibit that contains artifacts from the war, uniforms, weapons, books and language booklets that soldiers used to communicate with civilians and military from other countries. It also displays the names of those from Hall County

who died in the war. They include eight who were killed in combat, nine who died from disease and six who died of their wounds. They come from all over the county: Flowery Branch, Gainesville, Clermont, Lula, Murrayville, New Holland.

One of those named is Maudie Miller of the Lula Miller family. He began his training in Augusta in April 1918 and was overseas by June 14. Letters back home indicated he was doing well, assuring his family he wasn’t in serious danger and asking about things back home, such as

how the crops were doing.

Oct. 20, just three weeks before the war ended, he died of wounds in a battle. The family had a statue of him erected in Bethlehem Baptist Church cemetery.

One former Hall Countian, Louis McDonald of Cleveland, died in the Otranto Disaster in October 1918. He was aboard the troopship that collided with another troopship, the Kashmir, during a storm off the Isle of Islay. About 470 people died, most of them American soldiers.

A Navy ship, the Ophis, burned when gasoline supplies exploded, but Maynard Sanders of Gainesville was among survivors.

The Gainesville News announced the end of the war in its Nov. 13 edition with headlines on the front page proclaiming a “glorious victory.” Stores around town, including The Fair on the square, advertised “victory sales.”

Hall County had sent 610 of its citizens to fight in World War I. Of those, 438 were drafted, the others volunteered. Counties in Northeast Georgia had 5,736 soldiers in the war, 958 of those volunteers.

Hall County, despite troubles at home with the Spanish flu epidemic that killed scores, was into the war effort. It had a goal of $10,000 in the United War Work drive, but subscribed almost $20,000. Schools had been out three weeks because of the flu problem.

Brenau College held a peace celebration after the armistice was signed. Dr. H.J. Pearce, president, spoke. The school chorus and orchestra performed.

The community also designated its combined Thanksgiving service as a thanksgiving that the war had ended.

All was not peaceful at home though. Telephone operators announced a strike and walked off the job briefly. Residents complained about the lack of telephone service, though the walkout lasted only a few hours.

The operators wanted an eight-hour day, a 20 percent pay raise and a day off for every Sunday they worked. Company officials brought in a team of operators from Atlanta to work during the strike, but it was settled before they had to.

And revenue agents didn’t take a holiday as they killed one moonshiner and wounded another in a raid on an illegal liquor still in Lumpkin County.

Riverside Military Academy was showing off its rebuilt facilities, and a movement began to build a new high school in Gainesville. It would be a couple more years before the building on West Washington Street would be built.

The war ended, people were optimistic about the future and making a list of projects they wanted to see the city and county complete.

Look for more local history in this space next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. whose column appears Sundays; e-mail.

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