A moving war memorial proudly stands in front of the John Lewis Shade American Legion Post at the intersection of South Second Street and Leavy Avenue.
Additions have been made to the memorial complex (see color photo) since its dedication on May 30, 1928, 10 years after the armistice that ended World War I.
The post was named for U.S. Army Private John Lewis Shade, who was killed on the Western Front in France during the horrific Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918. His family, friends and loved ones, like millions of other Americans, were devastated by his loss.
In 1921, Shade’s family made arrangements to have his remains exhumed from a battlefield cemetery in France and brought back to Clearfield for reburial.
His casket lay in state in the county courthouse before being taken to St. Francis Catholic Church for a Requiem Mass, and then burial in Calvary Cemetery.
Other such funeral arrangements were made for some of the many Clearfield County young men who perished in the “war to end all wars.”
It became tradition, though, to name local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts for the first soldier, sailor or marine from the town who was killed in action and often brought home for final burial during the early 1920’s.
That tradition continued in place for posts organized in 1946 after World War II. Shade had that honor in Clearfield.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “There is no such thing as a good war or a bad peace.” Not even wise old Ben could have imagined the horrors of World War I.
The mud, filth and rats of the trenches were made a foul charnel of death by near constant heavy artillery bombardments, crisscrossed machine gun fire and poison gas.
Combined with suicidal “over the top” charges through “no man’s land,” casualty rates were hideous. One need only read the novels, All Quiet On The Western Front or Johnny Got His Gun in order to get a hindsight glimpse into the war.
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 was just as deadly to both military personnel and civilians alike.
As the 1928 photo shows, Clearfield’s populace turned out en mass for the dedication. A portion of the towering edifice of Trinity United Methodist Church is shown at the left of the photo.
The statue of the soldier that has stood for 93 years is draped behind a U.S. flag, waiting unveiling.
After holding services were held earlier that day in Calvary and Hillcrest cemeteries, the Legionaries convened in front of the monument. Both the Clearfield Junior High School Choir and St. Francis School students sang patriotic songs and hymns.
The Clearfield Italian Band provided instrumental music. Six surviving Civil War veterans, then old men, were honored. Local clergy gave their blessings and Dr. Frederick Godcharles, the Pennsylvania State Librarian and a respected commonwealth historian, was the guest speaker. Taps were played and the ceremony ended.
Today, veteran volunteers sell artificial poppies at Memorial Day services. They are reminders of the popular 1918 poem line, “In Flanders Fields (northern France and Belgium) the poppies grow, between the crosses row on row”. It is worth a buck to buy one.