The University of Montana
The University of Montana
Six months after the Armistice Day Treaty had ended World War I and two months after the influenza pandemic had run its deadly course in Missoula, members of the State University of Montana community gathered north of the Oval to remember their dead.
University President Edward O. Sisson presided over a memorial service honoring alumni and undergraduates, as well as other Montanans who died in service during the war.
Crews planted thirty-two ponderosa pine trees as living memorials to the thirty-one people listed on the honor roll. The Montana Kaimin student newspaper reported that wounded marine veteran, Elwood H. Best, filled in the soil around the tree planted in honor of Marcus Cook as Taps played. Cook was the first State University student killed in the war.
"As I stand here this afternoon I am not greatly concerned as to what I shall say to you. Nor do I deem it important that we who are here should find this service fitting or impressive. Rather my wish would be that somehow, in some way, those whom we honor here might be present and understand and find what we do here as they would wish.
They cannot speak. But as we contemplate the form of monument here erected, we cannot but be reminded of the poet who died with them and who now speaks for them."
Pope was referring to American poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer, who died in combat in France in July, 1918. He is the author of the poem, "Trees", which Professor Pope included in his address.
"I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree,
A tree whose thirsty mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast,
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray,
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair
Upon whose bosom snow has lain,
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Only God can make a tree. Only God can make a man such as these. Only God can put within a man the spirit that led these men to die for us. And I am sure that if these men were here to see the monuments we are now erecting, they would say that all is well."
"And if we could converse with them, I know the wish could be expressed, that they and what they did for us might be remembered, might never be forgotten. To understand and to know what they have given is impossible for us. For us this day broke upon a world of joy. We woke to the singing of the robins and the larks. The sun struck over the mountains and lighted up the face of Lolo shining above a wreath of clouds. We went forth to see the bluebirds building in the barn, to see the young plants bursting from the earth, to hear the laughter of children playing in the sunshine.
"But for these men who lie beneath the little crosses a thousand days like this shall dawn and they shall never taste the joy of life. These men have never really lived. They were too young. Too bad that older men could not have gone. They were but boys. What chance had they to live? What chance had they to see the face of Romance, to hold the hand of a little child, to go forth into the world to wrest a living for the ones they love? Only as we remember this can we appreciate their sacrifice.
"They will be remembered. When we shall look upon the world and find it good, we shall gaze upon the sky, the mountains, these trees, or any trees, let us resolve that like these trees their memory shall be ever green. So that when we shall be gone and shall have been forgotten, when the place where we stand shall know us no more, when countless generations of students shall walk upon this campus and look upon these trees, men shall remember and say that these men died to save the world."
Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library
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