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Kevin Dayhoff: Westminster Memorial Trees honor those who served in World War I

Last Thursday was Veterans Day — a day of commemoration and honor set aside so that we may celebrate the freedoms that we enjoy, and the preservation of American values made possible by the dedication and sacrifice of the United States’ citizen-soldiers.

“The Great War,” or World War I, came to an end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Social and economic historians often view 1918 and the end of the war as a time of complicated social, political and economic events that we are still trying to understand.

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World War I marked the disintegration of the economic and political world order established during the Napoleonic era through the creation of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The war marked the end of three centuries of European world domination. Europe never recovered. World War II, which began 21 years later, was the final nail in the coffin.

It was only a miracle that World War I did not start with the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, the Spanish-American War of 1898, or the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.

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Economic historians understand that the Great War, a designation previously held by the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, was actually the result of almost two decades of economic warfare between Europe’s ailing great empires.

The localized conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which eventually sparked the war, was the straw that broke the camel’s back as the empires of Europe sought a military solution to their economic woes. The result was the complete opposite, as the gross national products of the warring European protagonists shrank precipitously.

Austria-Hungary did not react militarily for almost a month to the events of June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, when Gavrilo Princip shot and killed the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Only after Austria-Hungary had been assured of financial support from Germany did it react.

The world is still reeling from the fallout that accompanied the destruction of these empires, especially in the Middle East, where the drawing of artificial boundaries created nations that to this day cannot get along. For example, Syria still does not recognize Lebanon as a separate country, but a territory of Syria in rebellion.

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I have written about Veterans Day and World War I many times in the past. However, what I have not written about since 2005 is the planting of 1 mile of Memorial Trees for the veterans of World War I along Old Westminster Pike, just east of Fair Avenue at West Main Street.

Often, when I pass through the intersection of Malcolm Drive and Old Westminster Pike, I notice a small sign facing the road on the little piece of ground that serves as a front yard for the house on the corner. Growing up, we knew the property as the Mary Malcolm Hunter property — hence Malcolm Drive. The sign commemorates Jerome L. Day from Gamber, who was the first Carroll Countian to make the supreme sacrifice for our country in World War I.

A 1966 newspaper clipping tells the story of Mrs. George K. Mather of 121 Willis St., who planted Memorial Trees for the veterans of World War I along Old Westminster Pike.
A 1966 newspaper clipping tells the story of Mrs. George K. Mather of 121 Willis St., who planted Memorial Trees for the veterans of World War I along Old Westminster Pike. (Kevin Dayhoff)

A fading, yellowed, undated news clipping in one of my files tells the story of Mrs. George K. Mather, of Willis Street in Westminster, being “honored by [the] Jerome L. Day Post 48 of the 29th Division Association Saturday night at the VFW home. Commander Harold Roop presided.”

Fortunately, on the back of the undated clipping is a Carroll Theatre advertisement for “Boy, Did I get A Wrong Number,” starring Bob Hope, Elke Sommer and Phyllis Diller. This movie came out in 1966.

In the 1966 ceremonies, Mather “was recognized as the originator of the planting of one mile of Memorial Trees for the boys of World War I.” They were reported to be the first Memorial Trees planted in the United States for those who served in World War I. In 1919, Mather was the president of the Civic League of Westminster. She felt that there ought to be a “lasting memorial” to the Carroll Countians who served in the war. My grandfather, William Earl Wright from Taylorsville, served in WWI as a military police officer in the calvary.

Mather got assistance from former Maryland Gov. Edwin Warfield (1904-1908) and George Mathews, who served as the mayor of Westminster from May 17, 1926 to March 15, 1938, when he died in office.

Mather appointed Mrs. S. Luther Bare, Mrs. Daniel Shipley and Mrs. Austin Gallagher to a committee that oversaw the planting of 100 pin oaks, which lined both sides of Old Baltimore Pike. The trees were dedicated at “devotional exercises” on July 4, 1919.

For all our readers who are veterans, please accept a grateful nation’s heartfelt gratitude for your service to preserve our American values.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

Mount Airy Elementary School stand for the pledge of allegiance during a ceremony to recognize Veterans Day Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.
Mount Airy Elementary School stand for the pledge of allegiance during a ceremony to recognize Veterans Day Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)
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