On Nov. 10, 1918, Tobey Farmer, a corporal in the 365th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division of the U.S. Army, died while serving his nation, and freedom, in St. Mihiel, France.
Farmer, from Illinois, died just a few hours before the armistice to end World War I began at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.
Like many of his fallen comrades, Farmer was buried in France and can be found at Plot B, Row 15, Grave 16 in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial near Thiaucourt. Around him lie 4,152 other doughboys that died while retaking the Verdun-St. Mihiel-Pont-a-Mousson salient late in the war.
That’s all I know about the Illinois boy now resting forever amid the 40-acre cemetery in what had been the center of a German bulge that brave Americans like Farmer smashed to hasten an end to the war that was to end all wars.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I know it’s a near-certainty that no one will remember him on the day we say we remember our war dead.
His name, never recorded in any of the solemn poems read by solemn people on solemn occasions like Memorial Day, will not be spoken nor will his deeds and sacrifice be mentioned. And I know he will not be the only one forgotten.
Few of the estimated 1,317,700 American military women and men who died in wars declared and remembered (the Civil War: 623,026 dead) or undeclared and forgotten (The Haiti Occupation, 1915-1934: 146 dead) will be mentioned on Memorial Day.
We must remember
But their collective sacrifice, what President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address called “their last full measure of devotion,” should never be forgotten.
We must remember, Lincoln suggested a moment earlier, because “we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggle here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Lincoln finished his 278-word psalm to Gettysburg’s dead with a challenge to all Americans suffering through a war that threatened the young nation’s very survival.
Still meaningful. His challenge still resonates a century and half later this Memorial Day.
“It is for us the living,” Lincoln reminded his audience, “to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus so nobly advanced.”
The “great task remaining before us,” said the Great Emancipator, was clear: “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s belief in “the people” was unshakable despite a yet-undecided war that was ripping the nation apart. A government of, by and for people could surmount the carnage, he said, if “this nation” had the resolve to do so.
People like Tobey Farmer had that resolve; he left safe, sleepy Illinois to fight European militarism in war-torn France where, one day shy of a future, he died.
He did not die so special interests could take this nation to the edge of financial ruin. He did not die so billion-dollar corporate juggernauts, like global meatpackers, could buy favors that fit their interests and filled their bank accounts.
He did not die for politicians to ride to power on oceans of campaign cash and then, standing in the shadow of the flag, boldly and falsely claim their independence of its influence.
He and all 1,317,700 war-dead did, however, give their last full measure so that government of, by and for the people would remain paramount to rich, powerful and corrosive special interests.
If you can’t remember Tobey Farmer this Memorial Day, at least remember that.