Memories of 1933 Armistice Day in the little prairie town of Fort Pierre, S.D., linger. Miss Popham, my teacher, had 18 to 20 of us first- and second-graders. My classmate/best friend was the son of a veteran of World War I, or the Great War as it was also called. Our class memorized Canadian army surgeon Lt. Col. John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields," a tribute to his fallen buddy who was buried in those Belgium fields.
Around town on Armistice Day weekend, veterans sold Buddy Poppies, little red crepe paper poppies, until every man had a poppy in his lapel or twisted around his hat band.
We learned that at 11:11 a.m. Nov. 11, 1918, Allied and Axis powers had signed the armistice in Germany ending the fighting. So at 11 minutes after 11 on Armistice Day, prepped and expectant, we waited. Whether the signal came from the town fire siren, the school bell tower or the fire alarm in the adjacent octagonal hall, on the signal all activity stopped - only the ticking of the case clock could be heard for one long silent minute.
Everybody knew everybody, family dinner conversations drifted to list making: who had been in the war, who had died in battle, who died of influenza in the camps, and those who were "gassed." One village elder had served in the Civil War. The Lincoln-esque pool hall proprietor was a veteran of the Indian Wars. The druggist had been a medic in the Spanish-American War. (One by one, five of us brothers would succeed one another as his single employee - a period of 18 years; all heard his vivid accounts of crude wartime surgeries.)
U.S. military involvements have come in rapid succession since the Great War - that war to end all wars. Torrance, a seedling of a city in 1918, has responded to each call; 146 of her service people would die. Many rest in other "Flanders Fields."
In a caring tradition, the 146 names are etched in the black marble of a community memorial plaza at the corner of Madrona Avenue and Torrance Boulevard. Flags call attention to their sacrifice. In an effort to "put a face" on each name, the Torrance Historical Society is engaged in a Names on the Wall project to gather and preserve the too-short life story of each.
The biographical information gathered by volunteers is being preserved in archival fashion at the Historical Society Museum. Passage of time is the enemy of those who record history; sources, family members and those who remember are scattered and die.
Regard this as an invitation to contact the society with written or oral recollections, stories or perhaps a snapshot - help us put a face on a name. We need additional researchers. The task becomes a memorable experience - joyful, poignant and always rewarding. Contact us at the museum at 1345 Post Ave. or 310-328-5392.
A dozen years later, most of the little boys in Miss Popham's class would be looking at another World War. Classmate Cecil Harris and I would turn 18, receive our draft notices and be off to military service before senior prom. Cecil would die in Germany within the year. Four of the brothers who worked in Mr. Loupe's pharmacy would wear World War II uniforms. All would return, albeit one would carry scars of D-Day Normandy and go on to war in Korea.
Consider adopting one of our names.
Jerry Ronan is a Torrance resident who was a member of the Torrance High School faculty from 1955 to 1992.
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