At the 11th hour on Nov. 11, bells will toll and sirens will ring across the state, and the nation, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Flags will also fly at half-staff that day, to honor the estimated 120,000 American soldiers who died defending their country in World War I.
The North Dakota World War I Centennial Committee generated the idea for the tribute, which is being promoted nationwide by the National World War I Commission.
“World War I is, oftentimes, called the forgotten war because it’s really not even taught in schools today, but it’s something that needs to be remembered,” said Darrell Dorgan, chairman of the North Dakota World War I Centennial Committee. “We are asking all churches and everyplace else that has a bell to go ahead and ring it at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.”
The committee also made the request that each North Dakota county honor its residents who died as a result of the war by reading the deceased's names aloud on the steps of the courthouse, or at a Veterans Day program, once the bells are done tolling.
According to a recent study conducted by historian Barbara Handy-Marchello, nearly 1,400 North Dakotans died as a result of the Great War. Initially, about 700 state residents were believed to have died.
“There were no computers, records were sparse and many were destroyed or lost over the years,” said Handy-Marchello. “The 1,400 names I have documented are those we have evidence died, and the number might even be higher.
“A surprising number of the North Dakotans who died were not even U.S. citizens. Many were immigrants who came to the United States to homestead, join in the American dream, vote,” she said. “Many were American Indians who were committed to the war effort, though they were not allowed to become citizens until 1924.”
Handy-Marchello recently compiled a list of the 1,400 North Dakota World War I casualties, categorizing them by county and specifying the cause of death and honors they received.
“The acts of courage are just amazing … men who ran into fields of fire to rescue a comrade who had been wounded,” she said.
Disease is blamed for about one-quarter of the 1,400 deaths, according to Handy-Marchello.
“Influenza took a tremendous toll. When these men were grouped in their training camps or overseas, influenza just wiped them out,” she said. “There were other diseases involved, as well, but influenza was the most prevalent.”
Others died due to accidents, such as drowning in a river due to an upended wagon.
Dorgan said his committee may, at some point, undertake the effort of reading all 1,400 names from the steps of the state Capitol in Bismarck.
The North Dakota World War I Centennial Committee, funded in part by Humanities North Dakota, will sponsor six informational Great War programs across the state beginning Oct. 16.
Moderated by Dorgan or committee member Susan Wefald, each free program will include a short video providing an overview of World War I, a 30-minute talk by a noted Great War scholar, a discussion about changes caused by the war and a time for questions from the audience.
The lectures will take place in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot and Williston.
For more information or to view the list of 1,400 casualties, visit www.ww1cc.org/nd.