Honoring our returning citizen soldiers: Morristown’s 1919 Armistice Day parade

Local families, residents, and workers greeting servicemen marching in Morristown's Armistice Day parade, November 11, 1919.

By Jeffrey V. Moy, North Jersey History and Genealogy Center

A century ago today, Morristown celebrated the one-year anniversary of Armistice Day: The Nov. 11, 1918, agreement that ceased hostilities between the Allies and Germany during the waning days of the Great War.

American states and municipalities continued the tradition of honoring veterans on Armistice Day, until World War II, when many began observing the newly adopted Veterans Day.

Patriotic bunting decorating buildings along the parade route the day before festivities began. NJHGC photograph collections.

On that first anniversary commemorating the end of World War I, Morristown formally welcomed home both its citizen soldiers and the support personnel who served abroad.

Despite cloudy skies and some rainy weather, several thousand residents turned out to cheer on the parade of 1,000 service men and marchers along South Street, which was decorated for the occasion with patriotic bunting and American flags.

Civilians line up along South Street to greet servicemen, volunteers, and public servants who contributed to the war effort. NJHGC photograph collections.

Led by parade marshal, Major Leland B. Garretson, and adjutant, Captain James McLean, the 30-piece Dover Citizens Band joined the color guard of Company M 6th Infantry New Jersey National Guard in preceding the formation of citizen soldiers — the workers, business owners, local officeholders, sons, husbands, and fathers who had answered the call of their nation to serve in the Great War.

Front page article in the Daily Record with a detailed description of Morristown’s first Armistice Day parade. NJHGC historical newspaper collection.

Heading the parade of servicemen were 17 officers representing all branches and ranks of military service, commanded by Maj. S. Chudleigh Hicks, as well as 80 enlisted men from all branches, including New Jersey members of the Lightning Division, 75 members of Morristown’s 164th Battery of Trench Artillery, two platoons of African American servicemen from the famous New York 15th Infantry (the “Harlem Hellfighters”) and 250th Field Artillery, 40 sailors, a detachment of 10 marines, and representatives from the Medical Corps.

Float dedicated to the Sons and Daughters of Liberty; a Revolutionary era organization that sought to undermine British rule, through both legal and extralegal means.

Others marched to pay tribute to overseas sacrifices and work on the home front by the Red Cross and civil units. Floats depicted the efforts by the Knights of Columbus to provide comfort and amenities to troops stationed overseas, with other floats standing in for the Daughters of Liberty, as well as a few local businesses which combined patriotism and advertisement.

A float sponsored by paint and decoration firm, William Horsefield and Sons that was equal parts patriotic and self-advertising. NJHGC photograph collections.

The Armistice Day parade closed with Postmaster Eugene Burke leading a formation of postal employees who, in carrying out their daily duties, provided a cherished and invaluable link between area families and their children, spouses, or parents serving overseas.

Following was Fire Chief A.S. Amerman and a squad of firemen, a contingent of Boy Scouts, the Colored Scouts Fife and Drum Corp, and the Visiting Nurse Association.

Morristown’s World War I Memorial; a cenotaph, or “empty tomb,” where townspeople could remember the men and women who died in service, including those who were buried overseas.

A permanent memorial to Morristown’s war dead would wait nearly a decade when the World War I Memorial was dedicated on what was then the grounds of Town Hall (in front of the Vail Mansion).

Until then, those soldiers and service men and women were publicly remembered on Memorial Day, and personally by the friends and loved ones they left behind.

Sources:

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