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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.
He stares at me, intent.
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.