On Saturday night, Risley’s Great Hall was transported back 100 years to the end of World War I in a celebration that featured distinguished speakers and live music.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the war is over,” said Grady Owens ’21. “The guns have fallen silent. It is now time to celebrate, and welcome our proud men home from the battlefields of Europe.”
Sporting a Prince Charlie jacket with a bow tie and black wire-rimmed glasses, Owens, chair of the Risley arts subcommittee — which spent the last three months organizing the celebration — delivered last-minute instructions to speakers and performers in Risley’s Great Hall on Saturday night.
Owens, an archeology and history major in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that “people kind of look over” the First World War. After noticing that Cornell would not have any events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s end, Owens took the initiative to organize an event at Risley.
This Sunday marked the centennial anniversary of Armistice Day, which remembers the formal end of hostilities between the Allied forces and Germany on November 11, 1918 at 11 a.m.
The event opened with a performance by the Original Cornell Syncopators, who played a tune from the WWI era. The evening went on to feature additional performances from the Original Cornell Syncopators, as well as the Cornell University Glee Club, the Cornell Opera Society, the ROTC Color Guard and the Finger Lakes Pipes and Drums, which played a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Several distinguished guests gave speeches, including Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life, and Frederick Burgess, a former commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command who is now the vice president of facilities and campus services.
“We come together tonight to honor the thousands of Cornellians who served in the war and to remember the hundreds that we lost,” Lombardi said.
Before reading final letters home written by soldiers killed in the war, Burgess talked about the meaning of looking at individual stories in history.
“Sometimes when we go back, when we review past events, we see the participants somehow different from ourselves,” Burgess said. “You will discover as I read these few glimpses, these letters, that they were every bit as real as you and I.”
Over 9,000 Cornellians fought in World War I, and 265 of them gave their lives on the battlefields — one while serving the German Empire. Cornell also sent 4,598 commissioned officers during the war, more than any other institution in the United States.
Cornellians served in various distinguished capacities during the war. During the fighting on the Aisne front, it was a unit composed of Cornell undergraduates that first carried the American flag into battle.
“What is the price of freedom?” Owens said, reflecting on the lessons from the war. “Freedom should be for all.”