Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering World War I

Today is Veterans Day, known in days past as Armistice Day, because it marked the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918.  The community of Rochester observed the original armistice day in 1918 with a parade - a noisy, joyful celebration of the fact that the war was over and Rochester's boys in uniform would soon be on their way home.

However, events did not play out as Rochesterites expected on that happy day in November 1918. One of their own, a young private in the Army named Homer Wing, was in Russia at the time of the armistice. His unit was assigned to an expeditionary force known as the Polar Bears, and was left in the vicinity of Archangel, Russia with a mission to destabilize the newly-ascended Bolshevik government there.  Months went by after the armistice was signed and still the Polar Bears did not return home. Finally, bowing to public pressure, the government ordered them stateside.

Homer Wing was actually on his way home when he was killed in a railroad collision on the Vologda Railroad, and when at last he returned to Rochester in November 1919, it was as a fallen hero.  Members of the newly-chartered American Legion post, named in Homer Wing's honor, led his funeral procession through the streets of Rochester. The newspaper reported on the solemn ceremonies as follows:

November 18, 1919 -- Rochester business places were closed from 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon while the village paid honors to Homer Wing, whose body had been brought home from Russia for burial. Wing was a member of the 339th Infantry who was killed in a railroad accident overseas last May.
The Homer Wing Post, American Legion, consisting of about 30 soldiers in uniform, headed the funeral procession through the main streets of the town. They were followed by 30 members of the local Red Cross, the Mothers' Service Club and about 225 school children who had been given a holiday to assist in the services. The remains were taken to the Rochester cemetery where they were interred, Rev. W. H. Collycott officiating at the services.

Many of the Polar Bears were from Michigan. A monument to their sacrifice was erected at White Chapel Cemetery in 1930, surrounded by the graves of 56 members of the Polar Bear units.

This year, the Rochester Avon Historical Society's cemetery walk, "Heroes in the Stones," featured a portrayal of Homer Wing by actor Jacob Fulton.  Click the video link above to view the performance.

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