Unlike World War II, The Great War did not end with a formal surrender. Instead, a series of armistices were reached between the Allies and Central Powers, with the culmination on November 11, 1918, when Germany agreed to end the war. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the sound of silence spread throughout the Western Front, as the war had come to an end. As hostilities ceased, the War to End all Wars concluded, and worldwide demobilization ensued. For Fort D. A. Russell, a new mission was on the horizon, as the thousands of soldiers en route to the United States would need to be either re-assigned or discharged.
Instead of either force surrendering, the Allies and Central Powers agreed to cease fighting. Despite the absence of a formal surrender, nations and empires from both sides concluded that an armistice would be the quickest way to end the war. Although the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria had all signed armistices by early November, many waited to see how Germany would approach the impending end of the war.
Internally, Germany was collapsing by late 1918. Though the empire appeared strong at the beginning of the year, as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk secured peace between Germany and the nascent Bolshevik government and the German Imperial Army advanced almost forty miles along the Western Front during Operation Michael, a series of events hinted at an imminent German downfall. The German defeat at the Second Battle of the Marne, in combination with the German High Seas Fleet mutiny on October 28 and abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 10, signaled a collapsing Germany and a potential end to the war.
Forced by the threat of a crumbling empire, Germany sought to cease hostilities. On November 7, a German delegation departed to negotiate an armistice with Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces. Despite the possibility of peace, there was little negotiation, as Foch was diplomatically unwavering. In addition to a ceasefire, the armistice required Germany to remove all military personnel from Alsace-Lorraine, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, surrender a majority of their military arsenal, and release all Allied prisoners of war. Although initially hesitant, the German delegation agreed to the terms on November 11. Seven months later, the war officially ended on June 28, 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Although this momentous occasion officialized the end of a gruesome historical epoch, it ultimately paved the way for another world war twenty years later. Nevertheless, for many, the armistice and treaty meant that they could finally return home.
As soldiers began to return stateside, many considered their service to their country complete and, thus, sought to go home. Shortly after the war, Fort D. A. Russell was established as one of the thirty post-war demobilization centers. The first soldiers to be stationed at Fort Russell for demobilization arrived in March 1919. By June 22, the base was home to 1,377 personnel awaiting discharge. Throughout the year, Fort Russell assisted the U. S. Army with processing separations, and by September, only thirty-seven soldiers awaiting discharge remained at the installation. By the end of 1919, the Army separated nearly 3.25 million service-members after the war. Though the United States military quickly demobilized, the meritorious actions of those who fought in The Great War would not be forgotten.
A year after the armistice was signed, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 Armistice Day. Seven years later, in 1926, Congress pronounced Armistice Day as a day of annual observance. However, it was not declared a federal holiday until 1938. In 1954, a little over a year after the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that Armistice Day would be renamed to Veterans Day in honor of all who have served. Indeed, the history of November 11 acts as a homage to those men and women who have gallantly served, and continue to serve, in the United States military.
Kyle Brislan is the Historian for the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base. He is a prior history instructor, published author, and Air Force veteran. His historical expertise includes: military history, early-twentieth century Russian history, and labor history.