At the 11th hour of the 11th day, in the 11th month of 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent, and the massive, almost incomprehensible slaughter known as The Great War, “the war to end all wars”, and later as World War One, was over. Over 37 million people, both civilian and combatant, had been killed in a little over four-and-a-half years, and there was, literally, a dark, 430+ mile scar, the Western Front, running through the center of western Europe, from the North Sea to the Swiss border. This date, November 11, is celebrated in many nations as a date of somber remembrance, and in the U.S. we honor all of those who have served our nation in the military services.
As a docent at Washington National Cathedral, this day, almost necessarily, is also a day for honoring President Woodrow Wilson, the man given much credit for the end of the Great War’s carnage. Honored as a great hero by some, and vilified as one of the worst U.S. presidents by almost as many; Wilson was a man of his time, and, given the nature of his time, probably did as well with the circumstances as almost anyone could. His detractors love to point out that he would not even have been the President of the United States, had Theodore Roosevelt not run as a third-party candidate and split the Republican vote. Sour grapes. That sounds like a story about Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Party to me. Time, fate, the American people and God put Thomas Woodrow Wilson in the White House, and I firmly believe he was THE man for the job.
President Wilson was an intensely intelligent man, and very well spoken. I believe he understood that the people of the world were going to have to start thinking and acting globally, as one, or we might otherwise simply do ourselves in. Following the war, President Wilson destroyed his own health, touring exhaustively to promote ratification of the treaty ending the war and for the formation of the League of Nations, forerunner to the present UN. Despite the fact that it was largely the idea of their own president, the U.S. never joined the League of Nations. Within one year of the armistice, the end of fighting, President Wilson suffered a severe stroke, and his case, as an incapacitated President, was pivotal to the creation of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which sets forth guidelines for such situations.
On February 3, 1924, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States of America, died in his post-Presidency home on S Street, NW, in Washington D.C. While he was to be laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral, President Wilson’s funeral actually took place at his home, before his remains were brought to the cathedral for interment. The only public entrance to the cathedral, at the time, was a door to the first crypt level chapel, Bethlehem Chapel, known as The Way of Peace, and this is how President Wilson’s remains entered the cathedral for the last time. I’ve always felt that was particularly appropriate for the man who was given a lion’s share of the credit for ending The Great War.
He was laid to rest in the sub-crypt beneath Bethlehem Chapel, which remained his tomb for over 30 years. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, December 28, 1956, President Wilson’s remains were translated to his permanent tomb, on the south side of Washington National Cathedral’s nave, where he is surrounded by images and symbolism from his life, and quotes from his writings and speeches.
Visited by many, admirers and detractors alike, President Wilson, in his current circumstances, does not lack for company. I often like to spend time at Wilson’s Tomb, praying for the man; son, father, grandfather, educator, President, who God thrust into the gap at one of history’s darkest moments. I pray that he has found the peace that he so fervently desired for the world.
So, today, as we thank our veterans, I also recommend to all a moment of caring and thanks for Thomas Woodrow Wilson, The War and Peace President.