Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget

Today is Veterans Day, and it made me think of the first celebration in Kerrville on that day, Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, and of the sadness that followed. Bob Bennett’s book on Kerr County history tells the story like this:
“The glad news that the gigantic armies facing each other on the long battle front in France had agreed to a an armistice reached Kerrville early in the morning of November 11, 1918. Soon after dawn the noise of celebrating began and the din brought people into town by the hundreds. Before noon downtown sidewalks and streets were packed with people and automobiles driving up and down the thoroughfares. Everybody was wildly hilarious with joy.
“Guns were fired, whistles were blown and bells were rung. Schools were suspended for the day. The old town fire bell in a tower on the corner now occupied by the Blue Bonnet Hotel played its part in the noisemaking. Men and boys climbed up the tower after breaking the rope used for ringing, and with hammers kept the bell clanging for hours.”
Francisco Lemos
That old fire bell was on a wooden tower on the southern corner of the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, next to the Heritage Star today.
And yet, as those men and boys were ringing the old bell, striking it with hammers and mallets and sticks, joyous that the “war to end all wars” was over, the intersection had a different name: it was the corner of Water and Mountain streets.
You see, the town didn’t know.
The very next day, November 12, 1918, Mrs. E. W. Baker received word that her son Sidney had died in the Argonne battles on October 15, 1918; Judge and Mrs. W. G. Garrett learned about a week later that their son Victor Earl had died November 4, during the last week of the war; the relatives of Francisco Lemos learned late in that month that he had died September 15, 1918.
The town that had sung and fired shots in the air and laughed and danced in the street now hung down its head and mourned.
Sidney Baker
“They were a noble company,” the Rev. S. W. Kemerer, then pastor of the First Methodist Church, had written on their departure in September 1917. “That was a memorable sight at the station Wednesday when Kerrville gathered to tell the boys goodbye and bid them God-speed on their first lap to the front – to somewhere in France.
Earl Garrett
“The train was making up, and the engine puffed and rang its bell sharply while performing its indispensable part in this gigantic tragedy of all time. A great throng was grouped about the station and lined up along the tracks. There were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sweethearts and loved ones, friends and neighbors . . . We heard the kindly greetings and brief jokes and, but somehow they sounded a little forced and lacked spontaneity. There were no loud calls or shouts. A deeper note was sweeping the hearts of both the soldiers and the gathered throng. But there was the warm handclasp and low spoken well wishes, and sometimes only a look of blessing and farewell. God knew that many mother’s hearts were torn, that many father’s hearts were too full for words, and that tears streamed from many eyes, so God also wept in the tender rain that fell. He looked on and understood and loved.
“Then the bugle sounded, and the boys lined up. Captain Seeder uttered brief orders. Each line became straight, every form erect. An orderly called the names crisply. What a response! It sounded short and sharp like the crack of a gun – “Here,” “Here,” “Here,” until every man had made answer . . . .
“. . . the train moved away, the engine with two flags fluttering at its headlight, the bell sounding ceaselessly, the soldier boys leaning far from windows waving farewell. And the great throng waved farewell, and the lovely hills of Kerrville threw farewell kisses, and the clouds wept farewell . . .”
* * *
These three Kerrville boys lent their names to our geography, and we mention them by name often. Armistice Day is a good time to remember that they were products of the same air, river, and hills as us, young men who bravely stood by a flag-decorated train and answered “Here.”
I recently spoke with a man who was there that day at the train station.  He was a little boy, a nephew of Francisco Lemos.  His only memory of that day: all of the mothers in town crying as the train pulled away.


  1. Sidney Baker was my mother's first love. We have heard the story of the day the train left many times. Thanks for the memories..Lou Heidel, Somers, Montana.


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