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Why we celebrate Nov. 11

A look at bygone days | Nov. 9, 2018

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The morning of Nov. 7, 1918, at 9:06am, the Long Beach Daily Telegram received a United Press wire– the Great War in Europe had ended. The armistice took effect on Nov. 11 at 11am– the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. In 1926, Nov. 11 would officially become a U.S. holiday. In 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans.

But festivities in Long Beach began on Nov. 7 with news of the German surrender. The war was over! The newspaper staff immediately got on the telephone and spread the news throughout the town. The bathhouse siren roared, automobiles everywhere began to honk their horns, street cars and trains set bells and whistles going. In an amazingly short time, the streets were jammed with autos and trucks draped with flags. Businesses closed. Thousands of people, despite the influenza-forced ban on public gatherings, paraded down the streets yelling, weeping and waving flags.

A semi-official parade began at 2pm from the corner of 4th and Pacific. One automobile in the procession had a representation of the Kaiser’s goat mounted on the hood; another carried the Kaiser’s coffin. Patriotic adults distributed packages of firecrackers to kids on the street. At 3pm, three German flags were burned.

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Photo courtesy Claudine Burnett via Long Beach Public Library
Pictured is Armistice Day, as celebrated on Sept. 9, 1919.

Cecil W. Ayers, formerly a member of the British Royal Flying Corps, was part of the celebration, but it nearly killed him. During the festivities, Ayers rode about Long Beach in an automobile of the British Ambulance Service, waving a large flag and shouting with his friends. A few hours later, Ayers experienced what the Los Angeles Herald described as a “mind lapse” that led him back to the war and the battle trenches of France. He had been severely wounded during the war when his airplane was shot down in a battle with German aircraft. In addition to suffering from shell shock, Ayers’s spine was injured by the fall and, to make matters worse, he had lost his wife to influenza three weeks before armistice was declared. He was just one of the many who would suffer from this new form of illness called “shell shock,” now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

An “official” celebration to commemorate the end of World War I had to be delayed because of the influenza quarantine. “Victory Day” was eventually held on Sunday, Dec. 8.

3,500 people thronged the Municipal Auditorium for the three-hour program. Allied nations were represented by speakers from Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and America.

Another celebration was held the following year, when 400 men and six women were welcomed home to Long Beach on Sept. 9, 1919. All were given bronze medals following a parade, in which the latest war veterans were honored.
That evening, eulogies were spoken for those that died. The weather-stained city-service banner, which had flown over the city since the war started, was retired. Attached to the banner was a mammoth gold star inscribed with the number 50, signifying the number of local men who gave their lives in the war. A blue star bore the numbers 2,437, showing that 2,437 Long Beach men and women had stood willing to die, if necessary, in the cause of humanity. The first local casualty was Donald Edward Erickson (July 3, 1896-June 13, 1918) who died on a battlefield in France. He was wounded in action at Chateau Thierry on June 9, 1918. Four days later, he died as a result of his wounds. His mother, a widow, was supported by her three sons– Donald, Derrell and Fred– before the war.

When her sons approached her about enlisting, she readily gave her consent. When asked by the Long Beach Press to express her feelings about having three sons in the war and Donald’s death, Mrs. Ada Lulu Erickson replied, “Each must die in time. None can die a more glorious death than this; but, oh, it’s hard to feel it all, all the time.” (Long Beach Press, June 20, 1918).

Donald’s body was returned to his mother. Marines at the San Pedro submarine base were in charge of the funeral service at Sunnyside Cemetery. His brother Derrell (circa 1886-March 26, 1920) is also at Sunnyside. Derrell died in 1920 from wounds and exposure incurred during the war. Brother Fred survived and helped support his mother. He died in 1964 (March 9, 1890-Sept. 17, 1964) and is buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Many of those Long Beach/Signal Hill lads who died are buried in France and Belgium. Five are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D. C. Long Beach American Legion Post No. 27 was named after Arthur Lincoln Peterson, who was killed on Sept. 12, 1918, while leading a voluntary advance to cut barbed wire before a troop invasion. Cpl. Peterson is buried in the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial in Lorraine, France.

Some Long Beach men never made it to the war. Homer T. Rathbone (July 25, 1894-Jan. 23,1918) died at Camp Greene Hospital in North Carolina. Walter Lawrence Wickham (Sept. 29, 1897-Oct. 8, 1918) died while on a ship in the harbor at Liverpool, England. Harold Moughan Ketels (Sept. 16, 1896-Oct. 29, 1918) died just prior to receiving orders to report to Nautical School at Washington D.C. Charles Edwin Livingstone (Nov. 18, 1891-Nov. 4, 1918) was receiving training in Delvin, Washington, when he passed away. Mundie Woodard, George Tupper and Theo Robinson also never made it to the war. All seven men had one thing in common– they all died of influenza.

Following a tribute to the returned war heroes and to those who would never return, the mayor adjusted a white silken streamer diagonally across the banner, partly obliterating the numbers on the service stars, indicating the closure of this chapter in the history of the city of Long Beach. For 60 seconds, the 3,000 people in attendance stood in silent reverence before the service banner, bidding unspoken farewell to the flag that for more than two years had stood as a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by residents of Long Beach during the Great War.
As indicated on the blue-and-gold banner, 2,437 Long Beach men and women had gone to war; 50 of them did not return. In comparison, 9,000 cases of influenza were reported in Long Beach between Oct. 1, 1918, and Feb. 1, 1919. 148 Long Beach residents died.

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Courtesy Claudine Burnett via Long Beach Public Library
A spontaneous celebration took place Nov. 7, 1919. The pictured flag, although not the actual Long Beach service flag, is nearly identical to it, according to Claudine Burnett.

The flu buried more than 50 million people throughout the world in 18 months. The death rate stunned physicians. It took the battlefields of France four years to kill 15 million men, but the flu did the same work in much less time. In the United States alone more people died of the flu (550,000 adults) in 1918 than the U.S. military lost to combat in both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. In Alaska, whole Indian villages disappeared while India lost more than 12 million people. Adults with flu finished a poker game or army drill one minute, only to drop dead the next. Although the epidemic initiated the biggest plague die-off in world history, it is remembered, when it is remembered at all, as no more than a bad outbreak of “the flu.”

So, remember to get your flu shot!

Burnett is a former Long Beach librarian who, during her 25 years of researching local history, has uncovered many forgotten stories about Southern California that she has published in nine books. She has degrees from UC Irvine, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach. For more information, visit claudineburnettbooks.com.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, from 6pm to 8pm, Burnett will be at the Signal Hill Public Library presenting her book Prohibition Madness, which “explores the many happenings of Signal Hill,” according to Burnett. In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, all veterans in attendance will receive a free copy of her book Fighting Fear: Long Beach in the 1940s. Register by calling (562) 989-7323 or visiting the library.

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Why we celebrate Nov. 11