Sharply at 11 a.m. Sunday, a hush fell over the crowd of hundreds who had gathered at Dogwood Dell in Richmond for the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day ceremony.
They stood reverently in the amphitheater as the bells tolled in the Virginia War Memorial Carillon, marking the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, exactly 100 years since the armistice that ended the bloodshed of World War I.
“The war is over,” said Clay Mountcastle, director of the Virginia War Memorial, after the bells had tolled 21 times. “It’s over, over there.”
Allied victory in the First World War “set the United States on a path to becoming the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation, although it would take many decades of development, growth and conflict to realize that prosperity,” Mountcastle told the crowd.
He asked them to imagine themselves 100 years ago, sharing in the “jubilation, pride and optimism that Virginians felt a century ago when they heard the war was over.”
More than 100,000 Virginians served in World War I, and 4,000 gave their lives, Mountcastle said. “Let’s admit we probably don’t consider their sacrifice enough in our busy, daily lives,” he said.
The annual Veterans Day ceremony was held at Dogwood Dell and the Carillon in the heart of Byrd Park to commemorate the anniversary of the end of the war, but Sunday’s ceremony honored all veterans.
Many veterans attended and stood to be recognized in turn as the 392nd Army Band performed a medley of the official songs of all the Armed Services branches.
Among those who stood were husband and wife Martene and Samantha Whiting of York County, both Air Force veterans.
They had another reason to be proud on Sunday, as their son Martene Jr., a seventh-grader at Tabb Middle School in Yorktown, read his essay on the impact of World War I on Virginia.
His essay, which won a statewide contest for middle school students, emphasized how the war contributed to the civil rights movement.
“I believe the desire for equality was one of the main reasons African-Americans fought in the Great War,” the middle schooler said. “World War I was a transformational moment in African-American history.”
Jolie Smith, a junior at Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield County, won the essay contest in the high school category. Her essay also focused on the economic and social consequences of the war.
“Those who served directly in the war, and those who helped from the home front, included Virginians of all backgrounds, including many women and African-Americans,” Smith said. “World War I catalyzed the progress of Virginia economically and socially.”
Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who were guest speakers, both reminded the crowd that Virginia is home to more than 725,000 veterans.
“Our goal is to make this the most veteran-friendly state,” Cox said. He said Virginia now has four veteran care centers, and voters on Nov. 6 overwhelmingly backed an amendment to the state constitution that enables surviving spouses of disabled veterans to claim a tax exemption for their primary home even if they move.
Northam, a veteran who served as an Army doctor, said the state is making progress in providing better access to education and employment for veterans. The spouses and families of veterans “often go overlooked,” he said.
“The men and women who serve this country could not do what we do without people staying at home and taking care of business, taking care of our children — all of those things,” he said. “For all of you that support our men and women in uniform and support our veterans, I recognize you and thank you for that.”
The Richmond Carillon, which was dedicated on Oct. 15, 1932, as a memorial to Virginians who died in World War I, was open to the public for just a few hours on Sunday. The 240-foot memorial is undergoing extensive renovations.
No World War I veterans are alive now to honor in person, but there were those in the crowd Sunday with personal memories of them.
Cal Drumheller, a Richmonder who led the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony, said he remembers his maternal grandfather, Wilbur B. Cardoza, very well.
Born in 1899, Cardoza served in an ambulance unit in France during the war, Drumheller said while visiting the Carillon after the ceremony.
“After the battles, he would go out in an ambulance and pick up the wounded or dead,” said Drumheller, 68. He said his grandfather lived to be 84.
“I remember him telling me he was gassed once,” he said. “So it was quite an ordeal for someone who was basically a teenager.
“I have always been proud of my grandfather,” he said. “He was quite a character. He was a Shriner for 50 years, and he played Santa Claus at MCV for years.”