Armistice Day was a big day during the 1930's when I was growing up in Rockland ME. It was the holiday that existed for 20-odd years between WWI, the war to end all wars, and WWII.
At school, the days leading up to the 11th of November were days of remembering the songs of WWI: "It's a Long Way To Tipperary," "Keep The Home Fires Burning," and "There's a Silver Lining Through The Dark Clouds Shining." Someone always recited "In Flander's Fields" written by Lt. Col. John MacCrae, a Canadian soldier killed in January of 1918, after 4 years at the front. The poem remains with me today as a guideline for all Americans.
Armistice Day usually marked the first solid freeze, and it was a day off from school, so the hot oatmeal breakfast went quickly. I grabbed the football and ran out to gather some friends for a game over in the cow pasture on Brewster St. before the parade. It didn't take a great white hunter to follow that group,for it was hard to resist the feeling of power from the noise and devastation of shattered skim ice on the puddles.
At the field we chose up sides and proceeded to charge at each other with more enthusiasm than finesse. Occasionally there would be a forward pass which more often than not was dropped. Every huddle, where a muddy finger scratched the next play on the ground, was crowned with a cloud of steam from the breath and bodies. The footprints raised in yesterday's mud were now frozen stone like projections which dug into the skin, especially at the shins, hips, elbows and anywhere where the bones were close to the surface.
About the time the morning sun was making the ground softer and more slippery and we were beginning to tire a bit, came the sound of the parade as it started its way up from the middle of town.
Everything was timed perfectly, for we knew the procession would stop at the monument for a ceremony and then on the 11th hour of the 11 day of the 11 month, a bugler would play what seemed to be the saddest melody ever written, Dan Butterfield's "Taps." This, in turn, signaled the end of the game.
Across the lots, throwing the football into the backyard, down to Main St. we ran. There was no problem with a front row seat even in the largest crowd, for we sat on the curb at the crowd's feet. Just in time too, for there was the grand Marshall and wounded veterans riding in shiny new cars loaned for the occasion by the local dealers.
What a parade that was! The town band was there, the Boy Scouts, National Guard, the High School band and the VFW. Then came the Ladies Auxiliary of the American Legion with white gloves and long navy blue capes with one corner of the hem pinned back across the shoulder to show the golden lining.
The staccato of snare drums announced the approaching drum and bugle corps of the Winslow-Holbrook Post #1, American Legion. How proud they were in their dark blue uniforms and WWI yellow enameled helmets at a jaunty angle! Those tapping the beat on yellow trimmed white drums were first, followed by an equal number with polished bugles tucked beneath the arm. As they came abreast, the instruments came out in unison. Looking up at those bugles, glistening in the morning sun, trailing a yellow tassel and issuing a sound so loud one could feel it on the inside, was a thrill never to be forgotten
Then came the school children carrying tiny American flags. Of course, these were the younger ones. The curb sitters had attained a certain aloofness that came with going downtown to the sixth grade. The policemen
and firemen, white gloved, tall and straight in freshly pressed uniforms, brought up the rear. Always at the very end was the La France "hook and ladder" and the "chemical" whose unmuffled engines shook the very curb on which the group sat.
Armistice Day was one of the biggest holidays in Rockland during the 1930's It signified the hope that never again would mankind be subjected to the unspeakable horrors of WWI. The hope was crushed by the next generation of Germans when they invaded Poland in 1939, but that muddy group of urchins on the curb that day caught "The Torch" and held it as high as it had ever been.
We kept the faith!
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© 2000 LCT Flotillas of World War II ETO PTO