Russell Houston Hull came out of his foxhole when the cannons stopped firing.
German soldiers emerged from the opposite trench with their hands raised. After a few moments, one passed around a new box of cigars for both sides to share as World War I came to an end.
One hundred years later, Hull’s grandson, Russell Etling, stood a few feet away from his grave Monday morning. About 40 people listened as Etling read stories from his grandfather’s letters during the Veterans Day celebration at Evergreen Cemetery, at 401 SE 21st Ave.
Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice to end WWI.
Etling, the city of Gainesville cultural affairs manager, said the event was a way to say thank you to the about 2,000 veterans who are buried at the 162-year-old cemetery.
“We have a long history of veterans buried here,” he said. “It’s an opportunity when people come here to learn about Gainesville’s past and America’s past.”
The event included live music from the acapella group On the Edge, the presenting of the flag by the Milton Lewis Young Marine Unit and a speech by retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Gary Cook.
Cook shared stories from his 25-year military career during the speech. He served two tours in Vietnam and was stationed on every major type of ship, from submarine to aircraft carrier, he said.
Cook said it was an honor to be at the cemetery and to acknowledge the veterans buried there.
“Every veteran has a story to tell,” he said after his speech. “Every veteran that I know of, even if they haven’t served in combat, has experienced some kind of hardship.”
Kathy McGlone, the president of the Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville board, said the board decided to host the event to honor the veterans buried there and to give Etling opportunity to read his grandfather’s letters.
Two of Etling’s grandfather’s letters are on display at the Harn Museum of Art as part of “The Great Catastrophe: Remembering WW1, 1914-1918” exhibit, which is open until Feb. 3, he said.
Out of the 250 soldiers in Hull’s company, only 28 survived, Etling said.
Etling said members of his family have been serving in the military since George Washington camped at Valley Forge. He is grateful for the lessons veterans can teach civilians about sacrifice and how to think beyond their day-to-day struggles.
“I think there is so much to learn, and there is so much to process about what it is to be a citizen, and what it is to make a commitment to something higher than ourselves,” he said.
Retired Lt. Commander Gary Cook (L) salutes the flag as the Milton Lewis Young Marines present the colors at a Veterans Day event at Evergreen Cemetery in Gainesville on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. The event was held to honor the veterans buried in the cemetery and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.