November 1, 2018
In France with the North Carolina Museum of History Associates, by Chancy Kapp
World War I monument at Verdun
Jim Goodmon wanted to walk in a real World War I trench. Charlie Silver sought to stand in the footprints of his grandfather Henry Sprague Silver. John Arrowood recalled stories his grandfather told about The Great War.
Ken Howard kept a promise to a staff member.
We all sought knowledge and understanding of a war about which we knew little on our group’s first full day together on the World War I battlefields northeast of Paris.
Today, this is the lush agricultural country of the champagne plains and the dense forests of Lorraine. A century ago, it was the Western Front, bisected by trenches and shattered by millions of artillery rounds.
We began at Verdun, an ancient town ringed by the remnants of a battle that lasted more than 300 days and cost hundreds of thousands of casualties. This is sacred ground for the French where they held the Germans off.
Goodmon found his trench near the ruined village of Fleury. A number of us joined the Raleigh business leader on a short trek through a communication trench dug for transporting supplies and information between the fighting trenches.
Charlie Silver of Knightdale, past chair of the North Carolina Museum of History Associates, caught up with his grandfather Henry Sprague Silver of Morganton at the American Cemetery at Meuse-Argonne.
Henry does not rest with 14,000 other Americans at Europe’s largest American military cemetery, but he fought over these hills for months.
“My grandfather served in the 28th division out of Pennsylvania, “ according to Charlie, who found the unit’s Keystone badge in the stained glass window of the memorial chapel.
“He survived the war to come home to North Carolina and serve as North Carolina Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but he was a war casualty. He died at 30 from the after-effects of poison gas.”
John Arrowood, a doctor in New Bern and an Associates board member, is a grandson of Ancus Payne of Rural Hall. Sergeant Payne was a proud soldier of the All American 82nd Infantry. He served in this region of France and came home to a full life as a business and political leader. According to John, “My Daddy Payne knew his famous colleague in the 82nd, Sergeant Alvin York. He told us that when he got to France, everyone had his own horse, and they were all useless!”
Ken Howard of Raleigh, director of the North Carolina Museum of History, found the grave of Paul Sparrow, a member of the family of a museum staff member.
We all found something to take away — awareness of Freddie Stowers of South Carolina, one of only two African Americans to receive the medal of honor in World War I; astonishment that World War I remains are still being identified and removed from the list of the missing; bare comprehension of the savagery that engulfed this corner of France for generations.
Grave of Freddie Stowers at American Cemetery at Meuse-Argonne
We are here to learn. The lessons are coming so fast that we can barely keep up.