This week we welcome Anne Mateer to Author Memories.
Who Fired the Last Shot of WWI?
by Anne Mateer
My father comes from a family of talkers. When they get together, words flow more freely than sweet tea on a sultry summer afternoon. Their words most often fit together to form stories. Family stories. And they fuel my writing.
One of the legends in our family has always been that my great-grandfather, James A. Kaffka from Jonesboro, Arkansas, fired the final shot of World War I. They say there is even a plaque somewhere in Washington D.C. declaring this to be true. Not long ago I decided to do a bit of research on this family story. I wanted to see the evidence of its truth. And today we can find anything on the Internet, right? So I began to search.
I googled every combination of words I could think of: Last shot of WWI, WWWI final shot, Kaffka WWI shot. I got several results, but none mentioning my great-grandfather and several mentioning other men as having taken that historic shot. I dug into family scrapbooks and found out he was in the Navy, stationed at the Railway Battery at Charney, France. So I changed my search words. Still nothing.
I’ll admit I got kind of depressed. Would this family story—one that had even been written up in newspapers—prove to be false? But the historian in me felt I hadn’t yet reached the sources I needed. So I went to my “go to” site for historical research for my novels: Google Books.
I typed in my search parameters and held my breath. Lo and behold, it pulled up a publication by the US Office of Naval Records and Library, written in 1920. Here’s what it said:
Battery No. 4.—Gun ready to load at 9 a. m. Between 10.05 a. m. and 10.58 a. m. fired five rounds at railway garage, Longuyon. Last shot fired by J.A. Kaffka, S. F. 2c, U. S. N. Primer turned over to Lieut. Commander Bunkley for Gen. Barnes. Sponged out and secured. One-third of men given liberty in afternoon.
So there you have it. Last shot fired at 10:58. The armistice went into effect at 11:00. Those storytellers in my family had it right, even if it took a bit of digging to find the official word on the subject and even if others in different locations took final shots at the same moment.
Papa looms as a larger-than-life figure in our family history, so I’d have hated to be the one to debunk any of his exploits. Besides, I have a special place in my heart for my great-grandfather. It is his story of returning home from World War I that spurred my imagination to write Wings of a Dream, my first published novel.
available September 2011
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