It has been nearly 100 years since World War I, “the war to end all wars,” came to an end. Too bad that prophecy didn’t come true — it seems we have been in and out of wars ever since.
Back in 1919, when many American troops were slowly returning home, spirits ran high for their families, yet their happiness was somewhat restrained as some awaited news of the fate of those “missing in action.”
Central Iowa was certainly no different from other parts of the country. In each issue of the Slater News that year, happiness and sorrow ran side by side in the columns on the front page.
In the May 14 edition, the headline “Was Killed by a Hun Sniper” directed readers to the following story.
Homer Lanning is dead. Reported missing in action in the early days of last October, nothing more was heard from him or about him and all had come to the conclusion that he had been made a prisoner and was in some German prison camp.
Last week a letter was received from his chum bearing the sad news that he was dead, that he had been killed by a German sniper on the morning of September 29.
His chum, who is now in California recuperating from the awful ordeal he had gone through, writes in part as follows:
“On September 2, we started on our long march to the front. I will not tell you of the many hardships that we went through en route. Let it suffice when I say that they were met by a smile and cheerful words by Homer and all through those terrible days and nights of horror, pain and suffering, Homer was ready with a pleasant smile and a friendly hand.
“He won the friendship and the respect of the men in the company as well as the officers, and I know that if any of the officers were alive today they would tell you the same, but there are only 12 men alive today out of 250 in the company and somehow I am one of the twelve left to tell of those months of hell that we went through.
“On September 26, at 6 a.m, we went over the top. We were in the third wave, but a noon the same day the first wave was so badly cut to pieces that we had to advance to the second. We dug in that night and in the morning we advanced with the first wave on Mt. Faucaun, where we lost so heavily. We advanced under converging machine gun fire, going up a cliff, and for three hours faced the fire before we drove them away.
“The slaughter was terrible, but Homer and I were together and come through it all. By the time we had made the advance we were nothing but shadows of companies. Snipers, machine guns and artillery cut us down terribly. On the morning of the 29th, before daybreak, Homer and I were laying in a shell hole, where we were protected from the machine gun fire, but Homer said that he had seen a small dugout a ways back by the edge of the woods where he was going to get out of the heavy artillery fire which ‘Ole Jerry” was sending over at the time. I could not leave because I had to go on guard duty in half an hour.
“So Homer left me to go to the dugout, but I am sorry to say that he never got there. A sniper shot him through the head as he was passing by the edge of the woods.
“Death was quick and I don’t think that Homer ever knew what hit him, and I think that it was better that he did not lay and suffer for many hours like a good many of us have.
“Me knee is about as good now as it ever was, but my heart and lungs are still affected by the gas and I don’t have the slightest idea how long it will take till I regain my health.” — Harold Russell.
No more is mentioned of either Lanning or Russell in any later editions of the News. Reading the letter clearly points out the fact that it should have been the war to end all wars.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.