On June 28, 1914 Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian student who was living in Serbia, leaped on the car of the Archduke Ferdinand (heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary) and began firing a gun. The Archduke and his wife, Sophie, died immediately. By autumn, the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire) were at war with the Allies (Belgium, France, Great Britain, Russia and Serbia.)
The United States attempted to remain neutral during the early part of the War. American attitudes changed with the sinking of the Lusitania and Germany’s announcement that they would begin unrestricted submarine warfare on all ships, including passenger ships.
Although President Woodrow Wilson had declared his intention to keep America neutral in this conflict, the nation declared war on April 17, 1917. Before the war ended, more than four million “doughboys” had served in the U.S. Army with American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), U.S. Navy, or Marines.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. corresponding with the time the Armitice began.
Congress passed a resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words: Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
On May 13, 1938, Congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” The name of the holiday was changed in 1954 to Veterans’ Day and became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Louis Ernest Leffew was born on the 22nd of November 1884 in Elkton, Todd county, Kentucky. His parents were Elijah and M. Almeda Leffew. The family moved to Robertson county just one year later. Louis joined the United States regular Army in the early part of 1913, and served in the Philippines, Mexico and France. He left the U.S. with his command 14 June 1917 and was among the first U.S. troops to arrive in France. Louis entered the battle zones for the first time on 3 February 1918 in the Toul sector of the St. Mihiel front. On the morning of 1 March 1918, his company gave out of ammunition and the German army was making continual counter attacks. Louis volunteered his services to secure ammunition for his company. Facing death he went to the rear and brought up a supply of ammunition that beat off the German attack at Toul, and soon after this heroic deed, he was killed by a high explosive shell.
The Springfield Register reported the following headline: Springfield Soldier is Killed in France.
“News has been received in Springfield of the death of Louis Ernest Leffew, who was killed in action at the front. The following telegram has been received by his mother: ‘Washington DC Mrs M. A. Leffew, Springfield, Tenn. – Deeply regret to inform you that Sergt. Louis E. Leffew, Infantry, is officially reported as killed in action March 1. McCain, the adjutant general.’”
According to letters and reports, Leffew was loved by all who knew him, and was loved for his bravery by each member of his company, and was one of the bravest soldiers of his command.
The local newspaper reported, “It is glorious to die for one’s country, for if the body mingles with the clods and dust, the soul goes marching on, and just eight hours before Sergeant Leffew left the United States for France, he gave his life to God. The price of liberty is the pain and sacrifice, and the reward of sacrifice is the happiness of endless generations. Out of heroes and services of men like Sergeant Leffew comes the health of all nations.”
Sergeant Leffew was originally buried in grave no 221, French Military Cemetery. In a 1918 letter to Leffew’s mother, Adjutant General Austin Parker explained that it was not possible to remove the bodies of the dead back to the states before the close of the War. He also stated such removal by individuals would be impossible during the emergency, but the grave was carefully marked and location recorded so there will be no difficulty in removal once the action became practicable. He was buried in the French Military Cemetery in Mandred on the 9th of March 1918 with a service by Chaplain William A. Aiken.
Louis E. Leffew was laid to rest on 26 June of 1921 in Elmwood Cemetery by Robertson Post 48, American Legion and 60 ex-servicemen from Robertson County. It was said that the largest crowd ever assembled in Elmwood witnessed the burial. He was buried with full military honors.
Louis E. Leffew holds the distinction of being the first Robertson county citizen killed in World War I. Let us remember both the heroes who preserved and those who currently protect our freedom.