April 6 marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I and it reminds us not only that 4,734,991 served, 53,402 died in combat and another 63,114 died in non-combat roles in that war — but also how our local Turnbow-Higgs American Legion Post 240 got its name.
At the time, World War I — that ran from July 28, 1914 to Nov. 11, 1918 — was called “The war to end all wars.” In that regard, it turned out to be a spectacular flop.
It was, of course, followed by the beyond-horrific events of World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor that ultimately resulted in atomic bombs being dropped over Japan and the advent of the nuclear weapons era — followed by a host of other lesser wars incessantly cropping up world-wide and continuing into the present.
The US was a reluctant participant in WWI. In fact President Woodrow Wilson’s campaign slogan for his re-election bid in 1916 was, “He kept us out of war.”
But ultimately America was sucked into the black hole that became known as World War I and according to History.com, US President Woodrow Wilson “tried to keep the United States neutral during World War I but ultimately called on Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917.”
As explained on the George Mason University History Matters site, “On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world ‘be made safe for democracy.’ Four days later, Congress voted to declare war…”
And that leads us to the local connections — the combat deaths of two Stephenville boys, Ammon Turnbow in WWI and John Fielding Higgs in WWII — and hence the name of Turnbow-Higgs American Legion Post 240 in our city.
Ammon Turnbow — a Marine and former student at what was at the time John Tarleton College in Stephenville — died on Nov. 1, 1918, just 10 days before the Armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany on Nov. 11, 1918.
His death was a result of having been hit by German machine gunfire during the Meuse-Argonne battle, the last great battle of World War I. His body was returned to America and interred at Turnbow Cemetery near the community of Alexander located a few miles southeast of Stephenville.
On July 24, 1947 the name of the local American Legion post was changed to Turnbow-Higgs Post 240 in honor of all servicemen killed in WWII — and specifically for John Fielding Higgs — son of Rufus F. Higgs, one of the founders and long-time publisher of The Stephenville Empire-Tribune.
John graduated from Stephenville High School and Tarleton College and was a student at Texas University when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. A B-17 Bomber pilot, he was killed on a mission over Germany and was buried in France. His body was later brought to Stephenville for reburial.
Turnbow-Higgs American Legion Post 240 Adjutant Roger Easter — who brought the E-T the details of this story — says, “Locally Post 240 does not plan any special event this Thursday. But I thought the public should be reminded about those who served and died in combat and non-combat roles in the ‘War to End all Wars’ — or so it was thought of at the time.”