Greer County Heroes: New WWI memorial dedicated in Granite

GRANITE, OKLAHOMA -- The roll call of towns and small communities in Southwest Oklahoma sounded Thursday morning.

Combine that with a list of names, many of them ancestors of the people who made the pilgrimage to Granite to mark the 100th anniversary of the first Veterans Day and the end of the Great War.

"I can promise you," says speaker Phil Neighbors, " 100 years ago, if you walked down the main street of Granite everyone was talking about it. And today, 100 years later, we're talking about it again."

As a kid, Neighbors recalled a great-uncle whose lungs were scarred by mustard gas.

The memory of Bill Maxfield's rattled breathing prompted a research project and then a campaign to help people remember the Greer Country boys who joined a National Guard unit in 1917.

Neighbors told the gathering, "So 184 men from our county went off to WWI and they kept them together."

They became part of the U.S. Army 36th Infantry Division now commanded by Major General Patrick Hamilton.

He notes, "Some 30 odd soldiers were killed in WWI, all from Greer County."

The history of the Great T-Patchers is still revered in 36th Division lore.

Originally made up of Texas and Oklahoma farm kids who fought in the Battle of St. Etienne in October of 1918.

"300 killed, many of them from Southwest Oklahoma," said Neighbors. "And 1,000 wounded."

Two Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded in that battle, one to a Sergeant from Mangum, Sam Sampler, and another to a Corporal, Harold Turner of Seminole, Oklahoma.

Descendants of both men were on hand for an official dedication at Veterans Park.

Neighbors said, "What those men did 100 years ago was worth retelling.

Communities from every pasture and red granite cranny in this corner of the state showed up to salute the soldiers whose names are carved in this piece of red granite.

The gathering was a heart-felt thank you from across four generations and a century that changed the world.

Neighbors spearheaded a campaign to get the Granite WWI memorial on the American Legion list of 100 Cities - 100 Memorials which includes Soldier Field in Chicago and the L.A. Coliseum.

Two other memorials in Ft. Towson and Muskogee also made the list.

For more information on the 100 Cities 100 Memorials go to http://www.worldwar1centennial.org