Ladies and Gentlemen:
To speak heart to heart with you, it was my first thought that, having erected this modest memorial, we might permit it to go at that without any formalities for, frankly, I had no desire to appear in this role. However, upon consideration and after discussing the matter with my associates in THE HAMPSHIRE REVIEW, it was agreed it would be appropriate, indeed fitting, that you folks be asked to assemble here this afternoon to participate in these simple exercises. So, I come today to present this memorial to you and to all the people of the county; present t it on behalf of THE HAMPSHIRE REVIEW, whose owners have erected it.
This task would be a more pleasant one were it not that circumstances decreed that I should, as .a public official, be called upon, eleven years ago, to sign an order which sent into the service the boys whose names are engraved in enduring bronze on yonder tablet. I was the Governor of your State, selected by your suffrage, swarn to support and enforce the laws. By a declaration of the Congress of the United States, this country entered the war on April 6, 1917.
By another act of the same legislative body, the selective service or draft law was passed. By its provisions I was required to create boards, one or more in every county, and then to direct them to select the county's quota of men at each call of the Federal Government.
Right well do I remember that first call in the summer of 1917. It was near the midnight hour when the papers for each draft board were placed upon the desk in a pile before me. On top of the pile was the order to the draft board of Hampshire county for a given number of men.
I have faced some grave and trying moments in my life, as some of you know. I have stood on the deck of a sinking steamship while mountainous waves lifted their threatening crests high in the fog and mist. I have argued with my might to five thousand armed and angry miners in a secluded spot in the mountains beneath the silvery rays of a September moon. I have had the white robed nurse pull cap and dome over a my face as I lay on the operating table and listened to the surgeon give the quick, stern order that sent the ether into my nostrils which wafted me off into the realms of unconsciousness.
These and many other incidents stand out in my memory, but, here on this May day, after the lapse of eleven years, there comes back to me now more keen and vivid than almost any other, the hour and night when I signed that draft order.
I had a feeling of helplessness and sadness unspeakably great indeed. With no son of my own to send into that war; too old myself, fate had cast upon me the task and duty of signing an executive order that would send the sons of my neighbors here and the sons of thousands of my friends throughout the State.
And how terribly needless and useless it all seemed! For more than two years already Europe had been drenched in blood.
Our country, through its President, had vainly sought to end the war. Unable to do that he had proclaimed our neutrality: But Germany would not let us be neutral. Our ships were sunk, our citizens murdered on the high seas as they transported the products of your farms in American ships, carrying the American flag. And so Congress acted. It was my duty to obey the law. But I knew that many of the boys who marched away in obedience to that order would never come back alive. It was like signing their death warrants.
Do you wonder, therefore, why that was for me a sleepless night and why- it yet stands out in my memory above all others save the ones when I watched near the bedside while death crept stealthily up to take from me my only son? Those boys went out from your homes. They went into the camps and some of them over seas and into the inferno of the battles of that, the must brutal and devilish struggle in which human beings ever engaged.
Some of the boys whose names are 'graved there were killed in battle, died fighting for you and for me. The others, stricken by disease, died in camp. All of them met death in the line of their duty as American soldiers.
Appropriate indeed is that verse above their names: "We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, Felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved." Yes, we loved them, we honored them, we praised them. You, their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, have not ceased to love or to think of them. But, the public! How about its attitude toward the men who served in that Great War? Have we shown all the appreciation we ought or could? Or have we shown indifference, to some degree, at least? I think we have manifested the latter. It is with something of that feeling that those of as connected with THE HAMPSHIRE REVIEW have erected this modest memorial and that, on behalf of my associates and myself, I come to present it to you. It was and is our belief that this statue, standing here in this public place, in front of the people's Court House, will serve as a reminder to passers-by of the fact that more than a score of our picked young men made the supreme sacrifice in the war which cost more lives and more money than any half dozen wars the world knew up to that time. It will serve as a reminder of the cost and and of the horror of war and lead us to think and work more persistently and energetically for the preservation and perpetuation of peace, peace among ourselves and peace with our neighbors.
Let us hope that it will tend ever to remind us not only of the courage, the loyalty and the devotion of the men it is intended to honor, but that it may to some slight degree stimulate us in the discharge of our duties and responsibilities as citizens in time of peace.
Having made this brief explanation of why this memorial was erected, on behalf of THE HAMPSHIRE REVIEW I now present it to the people of Hampshire County.
Footnote: John J. Cornwell of Hampshire County served as the
15th Governor of West Virginia, March 5, 1917 to March 4, 1921