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Bells of Peace Will Ring Again

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At 11 a.m. Nov. 11, Americans will have a chance to remember the sacrifices of those killed in World War I by participating in the Bells of Peace program.

The United States World War One Centennial Commission is offering an app with a built-in countdown timer. When the timer reaches 11 a.m. local time, bells of peace will toll from your mobile device. To download the app go to:

Read more to learn about the day the bells rang 100 years ago.

The War to End All Wars

American machine-gunners going into action in France during World War l.
Preparing for Action
American machine-gunners going into action in France, June 14, 1918.
Photo By: Photo provided by permission from the World War I Museum, Kansas City
VIRIN: 181012-A-ZZ999-354

In 1918, the world had never seen such killing.

Between 15 million and 19 million people died during World War I, and another 23 million were wounded.

American troops discuss strategy in shell hole in France.
Discussing Strategy
American troops discuss strategy in shell hole in France during World War l.
Photo By: Photo provided by permission from the World War I Museum, Kansas City
VIRIN: 181012-A-ZZ999-967

The industrial age had industrialized death, and Europe became the factory floor for new weapons and new means of killing — from tanks and airplanes to gas and machine guns.

An Army field artillery unit is shelled by German forces in France.
German Shelling
An Army field artillery unit is shelled by German forces in France. during World War l.
Photo By: Photo provided by permission from the World War I Museum, Kansas City
VIRIN: 181012-A-ZZ999-841

The war had started in 1914, and the killing continued without letup until Nov. 11, 1918, when the Allies and the Central Powers signed an armistice that ended the slaughter.

A group of American troops march through a town in World War l.
Heading for Battle
American troops head for the front line in Montmiral France, June 1, 1918.
Photo By: Photo provided by permission from the World War I Museum, Kansas City
VIRIN: 181012-A-ZZ999-213

Just about every city, town and village felt the pain of the war. France alone lost nearly 1.7 million people on the battlefield or by disease. The United Kingdom lost between 860,000 and 1 million. The United States, which entered the conflict on April 6, 1917, lost 116,708 service members.

Two U.S. soldiers write letters home from a foxhole during World War l.
Letters Home
Army Pvt. Otis Polscrot, left, and Cpl. G.F. Martin write letters to home from a foxhole in Odern Alsace, Germany, Aug. 30, 1918.
Photo By: Photo provided by permission from the World War I Museum, Kansas City
VIRIN: 181012-A-ZZ999-389

The Allies had broken through on the Western Front. German forces had been decisively beaten, and American, British and French forces were advancing on Germany. The other Central Powers — Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire — had already stopped fighting. Germany signed the armistice in a railroad car in the Forest of Compiegne. It was to take effect Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.

It seemed like a miracle to a tired world.

‘Bells Burst Forth in Joyful Chimes’

“Bells burst forth in joyful chimes,” began one story in a London newspaper. Big Ben in Westminster tolled long and loud, and its ringing was copied in belfries around the city.

In Paris, people took to the streets with joy and relief. The bells of Paris rang out and people in the city from around the world cheered the end of the fighting that claimed so many.

In New York City, the Armistice was at 6 a.m., but New Yorkers still took to the streets. Again the bells of the city’s great houses of worship rang out and people flocked into the streets.

The same thing occurred across the United States.

Armistice Day was supposed to mark the end of the “War to End All Wars.” It is now called Veterans Day as Americans honor the veterans of all wars and conflicts. In the 100 years since 1918, U.S. service members have fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and operations from Desert Storm to Lebanon to Grenada and Panama. American service members are serving right now in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

At 11 a.m. Nov. 11, retired Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, will oversee the bells tolling 21 times at Washington’s National Cathedral in honor of those lost during World War I, said Betsy Anderson, a spokesperson for the World War One Centennial Committee. More than 1,000 communities nationwide will also participate in the program.

Individuals also can participate, Anderson said, by going to the commission’s website and downloading the Bells of Peace app. “As the built-in countdown timer reaches 11 a.m. local time, the Bells of Peace will toll” from all devices, she said.

British Officer, Poet

Bells draw attention to those lost in the war. Wilfred Owen was a British officer and poet who was killed on Nov. 4, 1918. One of his most famous poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth, mentioned bells:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

World War I Quick Facts

The United States declared war on the Central Powers – the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire – on April 6, 1917. The U.S. Army of about 200,000 was not prepared for total war that was happening in Europe. But American military leaders learned fast.

Here are some quick facts on the American military during the “War to End All Wars.”

Size of U.S. military on Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice Day:
More than 4.7 million
Number of American soldiers arriving in France each day in November 1918:
The 369th Infantry Regiment was an African-American regiment raised in New York.
In the segregated Army of the time, it served under French military command. The Harlem Hellfighters earned an enviable reputation for bravery, earning the French Croix de Guerre for the unit and two U.S. Medals of Honor and numerous Distinguished Service Crosses in its campaign. The Regiment Band – led by 1st Lt. James Reese Europe – is credited with introducing jazz to the French people.
The Meuse-Argonne Campaign was launched Sept. 26, 1918, and continued through Armistice Day.
The battle was one of three allied offensives that pushed the Germans back and broke their lines. About 1.2 million U.S. troops participated. A total of 26,277 American service members died in the campaign.
American industry was just starting to ramp up when the war ended.
U.S. forces used French artillery aircraft, machine guns and tanks.


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