Veterans congregated Sunday at the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History at Fort Missoula — and around the world — to ring a brass bell commemorating the armistice that ended World War I on this day in 1918.
The international “Bells for Peace” commemoration provided the opening ceremony for a day full of events at Fort Missoula on Sunday as part of Montana’s World War I Centennial Commemoration of Armistice Day and Veterans Day 2018.
The bell was rung at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, commemorating the moment the armistice when into effect in 1918.
“This is the 100th anniversary of the end of the first World War and it’s being commemorated internationally in France and nationally across the country. It’s a conflict that very much shaped the world of 2018 that we live in,” said Tate Jones, executive director of the Museum of Military History.
Missoula’s bell came from the last Milwaukee Road locomotive that traveled through Missoula in the 1960s. It was Missoula’s second railroad that operated during WWI and the train’s bell has been used for special events since it was given to the museum, Jones said.
The bell was rung at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
Remembering the lives lost during one of the most influential wars in history will always be important, said Vietnam veteran Mike Dwier, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1971.
“War history is very important and I think it’s just a good thing to keep in mind because the things that happen in the past always seem to reoccur,” Dwier said. “It’s also a good way to honor veterans. Obviously the veterans from World War I are gone, but we still like to remember them.”
Following the ceremony, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton and Matt Quinn, adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, spoke about Montana’s role in the first world war.
The two officials spoke alongside an extensive display of WWI artifacts in Heritage Hall donated by local collector and historian Stan Cohen. Fort Missoula was used by the University of Montana’s student training army during the war.
Out of the thousands of U.S. soldiers who gave their lives during WWI, about 12,500 Montanans volunteered for service, with another 29,000 drafted.
The state drafted more soldiers per capita than any other state, Quinn said, due to the U.S. Census at the time doubling Montana’s population. This caused the state to provide twice as many soldiers than should have been required.
“Montana’s own 163rd infantry answered the call to duty. These men and women came from all corners of this great state, from Poplar to Hamilton, Miles City to Libby, serving with honor and great distinction,” he said.
Montana was a young state at the time, Quinn said, and the call for duty was difficult for new immigrants settling into the U.S.
“Montana was still a relatively young state made up of a population of immigrants or children of immigrants, with many of their family coming from the very European nations they would now face on the merciless fields of battle,” Quinn said.
In his speech, Stapleton condemned last year’s removal of a granite fountain in Helena that stood as a monument to Confederate soldiers, saying that remembering even the ugliest moments in American history is important.
“Even beyond what we’re talking about today, and something that I’ve thought about in the last year was [that] it is so critical that each of us and our kids and our grandkids and, yes, the schools and everyone, remember the imperfect history of the United States, the imperfect history of Montana,” Stapleton said.
Cohen donated WWI artifacts to display during Fort Missoula’s Veterans Day festivities, which make up a sliver of the over 12,000 historical postcards and 1,600 newspapers in his collection. Cohen displayed ones that featured WWI-specific drawings, cartoons and propaganda.
“I grew up as a kid during World War II. I started grade school in 1944, and remember collecting paper for paper drives and vividly remember the day FDR died,” Cohen said.
The postcards depict calls from Uncle Sam and cartoon propaganda against German forces during the war.
“Postcards are history,” he said.
As with historical artifacts, preserving and commemorating historical events is vital to honoring the veterans who gave their lives to service.
“It’s really, really important that you share the message of what you see and hear today, and that you don’t allow to happen here what happened just a year ago across the mountain range in Helena,” Stapleton said. “You all have the honor of continuing this on and making sure that for centuries to come, right here in Fort Missoula, Montana, that they are forever honored and that nobody takes away the sacrifices of the men and women of the United States.”