Veterans Day salutes US entry into WW I

John Christensen
The crowd at the Veterans Day ceremony at the Yates History Center listen to Paul Gaston, who portrayed Harold Johnson, the first Yates County man killed in World War I.

The American Legion Johnson-Costello Post #355 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars celebrated Veterans’ Day on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 2017 in special commemoration of the centennial of the United States entry into The Great War, latterly known as “The War to End All Wars,” but sadly known later still as only the First World War.

Speaking from the portico of the Oliver House Museum, which features a special exhibit this year of World War I artifacts, local student actor Paul Gaston portrayed Harold Johnson, the first Yates County man killed in the fighting, and one of the men for whom the Legion post is named.

Born in Torrey, Johnson was an only child who volunteered at age 19, serving as a private in the 2nd Brigade Machine Gun Battalion. In a pitched battle May 28, 1918 to liberate the French village of Cantigny from the Germans, Johnson was one of hundreds in his battalion who lost his life for that victory, and is buried just outside that small village in foreign soil. Here at home, following his memorial service, his bereaved parents donated their 20-year-old son’s cherished motorcycle to the Red Cross.

In addition to Gaston’s portrayal, the service this year also included a speech by VFW Chaplain Rev. John Busch on the importance of military service, the traditional reading of the poem “In Flanders Field” by Lt.Col. John McCrae MD of the Royal Canadian Army, a rifle salute, and the playing of Taps.