End

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Riding toward the front, the sound of artillery fire reassures me.

I have not missed the moment.

Will all the guns fire until the end?

2nd Army’s guns will fire until 11 am. I know that much.

Watkins, my aide de campe, who is riding just behind and to my left, pipes in “Still booming, Sir.”

“Yes, seems so. No need for them to be quiet yet.” I reply.

We continue riding, listening to the distant thunder of sporadic fire from large caliber weapons, relatively rare fire from lighter guns, and practically no fire from small-arms, at least which we can hear.

“Sounds like only the bigger boys are active right now.” Watkins blurts out.

He’s been trained to know my thoughts well.

As we ride up toward a shattered building, I see a broken brick wall just high enough to serve as a seat.

“Let’s halt here, and listen for the end.” I offer.

Watkins pulls up along-side me, beginning to dismount just as my left foot hits the ground.

“Despite our attack this morning, the Hun aren’t putting up much of a fight right now.” Watkins offers.

No, they are not using their artillery to stop our advance. I don’t hear their artillery at all, in fact.

“Does not seem so.” I reply.

They are done. We should be driving them home, back across the Rhine, occupying all of Germany. Stopping here is a mistake!

I take a seat on the broken brick of what’s left of the shattered house’s wall. Watkins sits next to, and below me, on the ground at my feet.

Looking at my watch, I am sad to see we are at just a few minutes before 11 am.

“It’s almost time, Sir” Watkins gives words to my thoughts.

“Yes, the end is here.” I reply, looking past him toward an empty horizon.

Distant thunder, the reassuring god of war, echoes across the landscape.

All is right, when in order.

Watkins shifts on his thighs, looking around to ensure this is a private moment.

I continue to stare away, toward the German line.

A small explosion occurs nearby.

This may be the last crack of fire in the greatest war of our age.

Of all ages.

This is the end.

Flicking past the 12, the minute hand on my watch makes it official. It’s now 11 am.

It’s all over.

Everything is over.

Where did it go?

Where will it go?

Where will I go?

Where will men like me go?

A hand appears before my face, startling me.

Jumping up, I’m surprised to see Watkins’ face staring at me. He’s already risen, without me realizing it.

“Back to HQ, Sir?” He asks.

I look back at him.

Where?

He stares at me, intent.

What’s there?

What’s anywhere now?

“Yes, back.” I say, wiping the dust of broken bricks and mortar off my trousers.

“Back” I repeat.




Lieutenant General Robert Bullard, the commander of the U.S. Second Army, was openly disappointed to see The Great War come to an end. Having received rapid promotion during the war, he had found his footing and place in the conflict. On November 11th, 1918, he wrote about how he went “near the front line, to see the last of it, to hear the crack of the last guns in the greatest war of all ages. . . . I stayed until 11 A.M., when all being over, I returned to my headquarters, thoughtful and feeling lost.” Considering he had ordered thousands of men to their deaths that very morning, fully aware the war would be over at 11 am, one’s left to ponder if any of them had the same chance for reflection or sentimentality.

10:48

There are so few of us left.

Crouching as I move so my head never rises above the parapet, my body smoothly glides through the zig-zag reserve trench toward the communication trench. Discarded fragments of ammunition boxes, compromised ration cans, torn pieces of rotting blankets, components of  discarded molding hobnailed boots, and occasionally a random blown-off body part litter the flooded trench floor. Only infrequently do I run into another soldier. We are so few and far between.

It’s quiet now.

Just one shell from the Brits, answered by one from our artillery, every few minutes to remind each other that the war is still on.

No one left to fight; so few left at all. How much longer can this continue?

Sargent Weiske looks at me askance from his dugout under the front face of the reserve trench.

Twelve men shared that dugout early last Spring. Then we had the offensive, and now the sickness.

SSSHHIIIRRRFFFFFTTTSSSSS - KAASSSHHEETT - A shrapnel round passes by, exploding innocently behind the reserve trench.

The wet, dank heat of summer melded into the frosty, chilling cool of fall. 

“Sargent, do you believe the war will stop at 11?”

Stretching his arms and legs so he looks like a fully flexed starfish, Sargent Weiske does not rise to greet me, but instead turns his pale dirt encrusted whiskered face in my general direction.

“This war will never end. It’s just an armistice. Both sides have temporally run out of men stupid enough to die.” He then pulls at his helmet before shoving his full frame out of the dugout. Rising to 3/4 his 1.8 meter height, Sargent Weiske raises his right arm, pulls his sleeve back, looking at his watch for a moment.

SSSHHIIIRRRFFFFFTTTSSSSS - KAASSSHHEETT - Another shrapnel shell.

Even after over three years at the front, I still hear each individual shell pass overhead.  Today there are only a few. Fired far off, so they won’t do damage.

Few shells, few soldiers, few minutes left of war.

Sargent Weiske regards me for a moment, his eyes catching mine in a knowing look, before he places his bone and tendon wrapped in tight-skin hand upon my left shoulder.

“It’s over for us.” He says in the most gentle voice I’ve ever heard uttered from his mouth.

From below my helmet I look up at his fatherly face. Scarred, streaked with dirt-filled wrinkles, blue eyes, and tufts of brown crust of hair protruding from under his helmet frame a sincerely caring visage.

Thank you! Thank you for guiding me these three years, for keeping me alive, for saving my skin in the Spring Offensive by pulling me out of that shell hole, for harping me to write to my mother, for comforting me when I received word my father died, for giving me some of your meager ration when you saw I was hungry, for picking me up out of the fetid water my first day in the unit when I fell in, for kicking my butt to stay fit, for easing the loss of so many of our men by honoring their sacrifice, for everything. Thank you for EVERYTHHING!!! 

“Thank you Sargent.”

He turns from me to head toward the field goggles. They are aimed at the British lines.

SSSHHIIIRRRFFFFFTTTSSSSS - KAA

(Silence)

What is that?

Where did I go?

Why is it dark?

Opening my eyes, I can’t make anything out.

Everything is fuzzy.

Blinking rapidly, I’m able to focus enough to recognize that I’m laying in the bottom of the trench, fetid water cooling my cheek.

I must have been knocked out by the concussion of the shell.

Surveying myself, I can’t see any wounds. My observable world expands beyond my body to where I can see the trench around me.

No one is around.

I keep looking.

Where is Sargent Weiske?

As I look, I turn the corner of a zag in the trench line where I encounter the remains of Sargent Weiske’s dismembered body. His left arm rests over his broken face, guarding it from the shrapnel that tore through the rest of his flesh. His sleeve is pulled back, exposing the metal faced watch on his left wrist. 

10:48 a.m. November 11, 1918.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A German Sargent who had been with his unit since 1915 was killed at 10:48 a.m. on November 11, 1918,  just 12 minutes before the Armistice between the Central Powers and the Triple Entente went into effect. He was not the only soldier killed that day. In fact, on several fronts battles raged as officers in the Entente were ordered to take as much territory as they could before the fighting stopped. In this case, a shrapnel shell took the life of a man who had endured three years of bloody war and survived until the last moment. The shell was a throw away shot by the British in response to throw away shots by the Germans in response to throw away shots by the British, and so on. Everything in war is thrown away. That is the definition of WAR: To Throw Away.