This past Veterans Day marked the 100th Anniversary when World War I was officially declared over. The war ended at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month a century ago in 1918.
On Veterans Day at the Old Matthews Cemetery a special memorial service was commemorated for two local World War I veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War, the war to end all wars.
America was a late arrival into the war, however, played a significant role in the conflict and ultimately saved Europe and the world from tyranny and oppression. This overseas war fundamentally changed America propelling us onto the world stage as a growing global power.
The two warriors, sons of Matthews, were remembered and honored by the local American Legion Post 235. Private Joseph Lee Orr, USMC, and U.S. Army Private Grady Bost Hooks were both laid to rest 100 years ago in their small rural home town of Matthews, North Carolina.
Their stories culminated on the battlefields of France in extraordinary circumstances as these two young men died just five months apart in extremely difficult and harrowing environments.
Private Joseph Lee Orr, USMC was mortally wounded and died in June 1918 at the famous Battle of Belleau Wood, an obscure forest area located 50 miles from Paris, France. The “Wood” as it was known became a focal point for the American military an opportunity to display the American Expeditionary Forces capability on the battlefield. This bloody and brutal battle would occupy a special place in the annals of U.S. military history.
Belleau Wood was approximately a mile long and a half mile wide in a remote location, however, strategic as to its accessibility to the French capitol. There were high casualties for a small encounter when compared to large battles in the numbers of troops engaged. However, the fighting was fierce and it cost many lives and was reported around the world.
The Germans were dug in with machine gunners well camouflaged in defensive positions in outcrops and shielded by dense undergrowth and woods. The Marines advanced toward the enemy in rank formation fully exposed. They were slaughtered in the attack and lost 222 men and over 850 were wounded. The Marines would regroup and charge the enemy positions two more times. The fighting lasted three weeks and ended in foot to foot, hand to hand combat and intensified in savagery. Artillery shells and rifles gave way to bayonets and “toad-stickers,” 8 inch triangular blades set on knuckle handles, as the Marines finally slashed through the German lines. On the morning of June 26, 1918 the Marines now occupied all of Belleau Wood.
The German officers, in their battle reports, referred to the Marines as Teufelshunde, “Devil Dogs” and the name and image went on to become a celebrated symbol of the United States Marines. This is the battle and day the USMC became an elite military fighting force on the global stage. The Commander of the U.S. 1st Division Robert Lee Bullard declared, “The Marines didn’t win the war here, but they saved the allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later I think that would have been the beginning of the end. France could not have stood the loss of Paris.”
Unfortunately, on June 22, 1918, the war was brought to the doorstep of Mr. Thomas J.Orr, the Matthews Post Master. He was informed that his son was killed in action at Belleau Wood.
Private Grady Bost Hooks, U.S. Army, was involved in a much larger encounter the massive battle of Meuse-Argonne, the final Allied offensive of the war. Over 1.2 million soldiers participated in this offensive, the largest engagement in American military history.
Hooks was attached to the 81st Infantry Division, known as the “Wildcat Division” organized at Camp Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina on August 29, 1917.
The war by November 11, 1918 had many casualties, over 8 million men gassed, shot, buried alive in trenches, run over by tanks, or killed by artillery fire. Also, 13 million civilians were killed. There were no rules of engagement and civilians unfortunately would get caught in the crossfire.
The long bloody war was thought to becoming to an end in 1918. However, no one knew exactly when it would finally reach its conclusion. So on the morning of November 11, 1918 in the muddy trenches Private Hooks was getting himself prepared to go over the top and attack the enemy. The noise, smells of gun powder, artillery fire and death everywhere must have been terrifying, but, when the order came at exactly 0600, the whistles blew, it was his duty to move out of the trenches into the ghastly open barren space into hell, known as no man’s land, so they charged into the German machine guns.
For the next 3.5 hours, Private Hooks and his American comrades fought for their country and their lives. Men were falling everywhere dead or wounded, then just a half an hour before the guns would fall silent ending the war, our brave local hero would meet his fate and was killed in action. The offensive produced 122 thousand American casualties, including Private Grady Bost Hooks.
A telegram was received from the War Department by Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Hooks of Matthews on November 30th, 1918, informing them of the untimely death of their son.
What these “Doughboy’s” accomplished during this horrific major conflict in Europe and around the world was nothing short of amazing and changed America’s destiny on a global scale.
American Legion Post 235, Matthews North Carolina is currently making plans to rename the Post to the Hooks-Orr American Legion Post 235 to become effective in 2019.