November 11, 2018 - The Bells of Peace Toll Again
Throughout California Communities Commemorate Anew the End of the War
By Bill Betten, Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force
At precisely 11 o’ clock, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent, and the Great War came to an end. On the battlefields of France it was said that the “silence was deafening.”
For four long years the massive guns of WW1 on both sides had poured forth their death, but suddenly they bellowed no more. November 11, 1918, became the day the world would remember as the day of peace, the day the war-to-end-all-wars finally came to an end. “Think of it,” people would say, "war never again.” They would think to themselves, “Could it be true?”
But, WW1 became The-War-We-Forgot and soon enough (not twenty years later) tyrants were at it again dictating the orders for death.
100 years later the United States WW1 Centennial Commission formulated a plan to remind Americans of the service and sacrifice made by that generation a century ago. The Bells of Peace initiative was designed to involve communities across the nation to do just that. Towns and cities from Maine to Hawaii were asked to peal the bells exactly at 11:00 A.M. just as they did 100 years ago.
The word was spread and throughout the nation, California included, the bells did ring twenty-one times symbolizing the nation's highest honor: the 21-gun salute. On that Sunday, November 11, 2018, communities sounded together the reminder. Even cell phones had been set to go off where a real bell could not be found. An app had been made available so that even a singular individual could remember standing alone in the wilderness.
Thus it was, that up and down the State of California, from the smallest town to the largest metropolis the bells did toll at ceremonies open to the public.
For example, as the Sunday morning services came to a close in Woodland, California, Yolo County, at the United Methodist Church, right at 11:00 A.M., the church’s handbell group, The Glory Shakers, rang twenty-one bells in honor of those soldiers and sailors from Yolo who paid the ultimate price in WW1. A half-mile away at the historic Yolo County Courthouse, the American Legion Post 77 sponsored the Sunday Veterans Day services where retired Brigadier Gen. James Combs addressed those assembled to commemorate the end of WW1.
Further to the Southwest in Santa Clara County at the San Jose State University Spartan Rose Garden, another commemoration had started at 10:30. Bells of Peace: A World War I Remembrance also rang the bells at 11:00 tolling the university's 1881 Normal School Bell 21 times.
Toward the middle of the state, the Kern County Museum also participated in the Bells of Peace by tolling the bell in the Beale Memorial Clock Tower twenty-one times. The commemoration began at 10:45 a.m. in Jim Burke Plaza at the Kern County Museum.
The Armistice Centennial Event was a partnership between the museum, BHS Driller Service Academy, Kern County Historical Society, Kern Veterans Memorial, and the CSUB Public History Institute to remember those who served from Kern County in World War I.
Many joined in remembering those who served during World War I and to honor the fallen from Kern County at the special event.
Lori Wear, Curator of Collections at the Kern County Museum said, “We owe our freedom to the men and women from Kern County who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in service to our country during World War I. It is our responsibility and honor to remember their sacrifice.”
Truxtun Beale, a U.S. foreign diplomat, who had donated the famous Clock Tower to the City of Bakersfield, lost his son Walker Blaine Beale in World War I. Lieutenant Beale, U.S. Army, was killed in action in France September 18, 1918, just two months prior to the war’s end.
Bells were known to have tolled twenty-one times in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties as well.
During the war, 116,516 Americans died and over 200,000 were wounded, many still remain missing. The question, will their sacrifice be forgotten? Will we as a people not recall, not remember? As a Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force I am stunned to hear people, young and old ask, “Were we in WW1?” But, I do not blame teachers, for I know it was taught. I do not blame the texts, for I know the facts are there. The fault lies with each one of us who fail to recall the importance of it.
It is critical that we not forget the words Winston Churchill cited when he reiterated, 'Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.'.