Obama honors American WWI dead at Flanders Field

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In this photo taken on Monday, March, 24, 2014, World War One graves surround the chapel at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium on Monday, March 24, 2014. The cemetery contains the remains of 368 U.S. WWI military and support personnel. Of those remains, 21 are unknown and could not be identified. On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 President Barack Obama will honor those Americans who died in a struggle so all-encompassing, so horrific, it simply became known as the Great War. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

In this photo taken on Monday, March, 24, 2014, World War One graves surround the chapel at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem, Belgium on Monday, March 24, 2014. The cemetery contains the remains of 368 U.S. WWI military and support personnel. Of those remains, 21 are unknown and could not be identified. On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 President Barack Obama will honor those Americans who died in a struggle so all-encompassing, so horrific, it simply became known as the Great War. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

In this undated photo from the collection provided by the family of Patrick Lernout, American World War One soldier Wesley Creech, stands in his uniform. As if by premonition, Private Wesley Creech no longer hid the darkness of his soul from his wife Carzetta and five-month-old daughter Marie during the decisive weeks of World War One.“If I never see you and Marie any more, I hope to meet you in a Better Place,†he penned down in his best strokes on Aug. 24, 1918, when the American army was pushing the Germans back in Belgium. He signed off the letter with “good By.†One week later he was killed by an enemy bullet in the head. On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, President Barack Obama will honor those Americans who died in a struggle so all-encompassing, so horrific, it simply became known as the Great War. Obama thus pre-empts most of the continental centennial remembrances which are tarteged at the early August 1914 start of hostilities which pitted the German and Austro-Hungarian empires against France, Britain and Russia and others. (AP Photo)

In this photo of a Western Union telegram from the collection of Patrick Lernout, dated Sept. 25, 1918 it informs the family of the death of American World War One soldier Wesley Creech. Creech served on the front line in Belgium when the American army was pushing the Germans back in 1918. In August 1918 he was killed by an enemy bullet in the head. On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, President Barack Obama will honor Creech and other Americans who died in a struggle so all-encompassing, so horrific, it simply became known as the Great War. (AP Photo)

In this undated photo from the collection of Patrick Lernout, American World War One soldier Wesley Creech, center, plays an instrument along with two family members in Bolton, North Carolina. As if by premonition, Private Wesley Creech no longer hid the darkness of his soul from his wife Carzetta and five-month-old daughter Marie during the decisive weeks of World War One. “If I never see you and Marie any more, I hope to meet you in a Better Place,†he penned down in his best strokes on Aug. 24, 1918, when the American army was pushing the Germans back in Belgium. He signed off the letter with “good By.†One week later he was killed by an enemy bullet in the head. (AP Photo)

In this photo of a letter from the collection of Patrick Lernout, dated Aug. 1918, and written by American World War One soldier Wesley Creech from the Western Front in Belgium. As if by premonition, Private Wesley Creech no longer hid the darkness of his soul from his wife Carzetta and five-month-old daughter Marie during the decisive weeks of World War One. “If I never see you and Marie any more, I hope to meet you in a Better Place,†he penned down in his best strokes on Aug. 24, 1918, when the American army was pushing the Germans back in Belgium. He signed off the letter with “good By.†One week later he was killed by an enemy bullet in the head. (AP Photo)

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WAREGEM, Belgium (AP) — Pvt. Wesley Creech could no longer hide the darkness of his thoughts as he longed for his wife Carzetta and 5-month-old daughter Marie: “If I never see you and Marie any more in this life I hope to meet you in a Better Place,” he wrote in a letter on Aug. 24, 1918 — as the American army moved fast to repel the Germans on the Western Front during World War I.

One week later he was killed by an enemy bullet in the head.

Today, “Wesley J. Creech North Carolina” is chiseled in gold letters on the Wall of the Missing in the chapel at the heart of the Flanders Field cemetery.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will honor the Americans who died in an epic struggle so horrific that it came simply to be known as the Great War. Obama’s wreath-laying ceremony precedes most of the continental centennial remembrances that are targeted at the early August 1914 start of hostilities, which pitted the German and Austro-Hungarian empires against France, Britain, Russia and others.

The Great War claimed some 14 million lives and at least 7 million troops were left permanently disabled. Huge swaths of several European nations lay in ruins at the end. And the continent was plunged into physical, moral and philosophical shock.

When Obama walks along the marble stones, he will find only one that comes before April 1918 — testimony of how the Americans entered the conflict both late and decisively. Most belligerents were already exhausted from four years of fighting, so U.S. soldiers like Creech were instrumental in changing the course of a war that ultimately spawned “America’s century.”

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