Emory Heilman
Emory Heilman (submitted)

The 100th anniversary of the start of World War I on Monday passed mainly unnoticed.

Yet the war, fought between 1914 and 1918, has done more to shape the modern world than any other historical event, a York College history professor said.

"You can't understand the Middle East without understanding World War I," said Kay McAdams, associate professor of history at the college. "World War I created the modern world which we live in."

Ironically, a phrase, "Lest we forget," arose from the ashes of the war. Yet certain details of the war have been mainly wiped from the collective memory of the world.

On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire invaded Serbia, setting off the conflict. In the coming days, Germany declared war on Russia, and Britain and France declared war on Germany, further spreading the conflict.

Contributions: It would be nearly three years before the United States would join the fray in 1917, but York County's contribution was great.

According to the book "York County and the World War," about 6,000 residents of the county — about 7 percent of the total population of the county at the time — fought in the conflict. Of those who took up arms, 195 died, according to the book, which was published in 1920.

One of the men who made it home alive was Emory Heilman, who served in the U.S. Army ambulance corps in Europe.

Though many today have forgotten the war, the ordeal left a lasting mark on the man, his great-granddaughter, Ronda Heilman-Copenheaver, said.


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When she was assigned a genealogy project in middle school, she decided to find out more about Heilman's time in the Army. So she asked him where he was in Europe.

"He looked over and said, 'All over' and turned back to the TV and didn't say another word," Heilman-Copenheaver, of East Manchester Township, recalled. "That was pretty profound for me at that age."

Like veterans of any war, the horrors World War I vets witnessed in combat were often too great to talk about with anyone, let alone a 14-year-old girl.

Heilman lived into his late 80s and died in 1986, Heilman-Copenheaver said.

Stateside: Tina Hunt's grandfather, Leroy Trowbridge, also served during the war but was stationed stateside.

At a time when horses were still the primary means of getting around, Trowbridge, who was born in 1898, served in a calvary unit, said Hunt, a Hellam Township resident.

Trowbridge had to learn to shoot a gun while on horseback, prompting a friendly bet with his commanding officer. If Trowbridge could hit his mark better than the officer, the officer would buy Trowbridge a box of cigars, Hunt said.

"Grandpa shot better while on the horse, but never received his box of cigars like promised," she said.

World War I veterans from the Mount Wolf and Manchester area gathered for a photo after the war.
World War I veterans from the Mount Wolf and Manchester area gathered for a photo after the war. (Submitted)

Trowbridge, originally from Illinois, moved to York County after the war. He was buried at Pleasant Grove Cemetery near York Haven upon his death in 1981, age 83, Hunt said.

Changes: The war saw the introduction of tanks, airplanes, machine guns and weapons of mass destruction in the form of poison gas, bringing about moral questions worldwide of whether such substances should be used.

At war's end in 1918, the geopolitical map of the world was totally transformed.

The Ottoman Empire, which ruled much of the Middle East and parts of south-eastern Europe, dissolved.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire died with the war, and the monarchy in Russia gave way to a Communist revolution.

Germany, in its defeat, would see the rise of Nazism, partially brought on by economic decline mainly caused by war reparations paid to Britain and its allies.

That, in turn, led to the start of World War II in 1939.

The world is still feeling the impact of World War I, McAdams said.

When the old empires fell, new countries were created and that has caused growing pains, which can easily be seen in the turmoil plaguing the Middle East still today.

"In many ways we're still playing it out," she said. "That's the most important part. We should really care."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.