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The Great War


“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

The Great War

Perry McKenna, parish administrator at Christ the King parish, called Tuesday to talk about the special relationship that has existed between this community and our French sister city. I learned from him that the first Iowan to visit Azincourt, France, may have been Michael Schütz. Schütz enlisted in the American Expeditionary Force when we entered the First World War in 1917 and fought in the Argonne campaign.

As a third-generation member of the family that founded Saint Ahab, our first Roman Catholic parish, it was appropriate that he should be our ambassador to the only other church bearing that name. In a recent column, I wondered how the dialogue between the two congregations had begun; how it was that we exchanged gifts and forged a new friendship in the 1920s. McKenna shared with me the surviving correspondence between the two priests, Fathers Farber and Cornot (who never actually met, by the way); letters where Michael Schütz is mentioned specifically as the link between them. Ironic that they corresponded in German, the only language they shared (besides Latin). Thanks, Perry, for this insight.

There have been so many Schützes hereabouts that we were uncertain whether Michael had returned from the war dead or alive. American casualties were high, but hardly compared to French, German and English losses. So I skipped lunch and walked over to The Square for a survey of our war memorials—hoping not to find Michael’s name among them.

The Square

Iowans may have sacrificed their fair share for conflicts around the world. But there have been so many of those conflicts since 1857 and so many casualties that The Square is crammed, jammed and layered with a dizzying array of memorials. Of the last 104 years, I was surprised to learn how many of them we’ve spent at War (or something very much like it). It’s astounding.

  • American Civil War (1861-1865)
  • Spanish-American (1898)
  • World War I (1917-1918)
  • World War II (1941-1945)
  • Korea (1950-1953)
  • Vietnam (1960-1975)
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961)
  • Grenada (1983)
  • Panama Invasion (1989)
  • Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
  • Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995-1996)
  • Invasion of Afghanistan (2001+)
  • Invasion of Iraq (2003+)
  • Intervention in Libya (2011)

It’s hardly a compelling reason to avoid war—there are so many better ones—but frankly we’re running out of room to memorialize the dead.

WWI was “The Great War,” “The war to end war,” “The war they wrote songs about.” How might Michael Schütz have felt, enlisting in a war that everyone hoped would be the last armed conflict society must endure. What shining optimism on the troop ship leaving New York harbor; what satisfaction for the survivors coming home. And what bitter disappointment that their hopes remain unfulfilled.

Michael Schütz did come home. He married, fathered five children and died in 1969.

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