COLUMBUS, Ga. (April 25, 2018) -- To commemorate Australian and New Zealander military members who died in service over the past 103 years, Soldiers and Family members gathered at the 173rd Airborne Brigade Sky Soldier Memorial at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia, before dawn April 25.
The sunrise service, organized and run by the Australian Army Contingent on assignment at the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, was in observance of ANZAC Day, the anniversary of the 1915 landing of Australia and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers at Gallipoli in what was then the Ottoman Empire and is now Turkey.
More than 8,000 ANZAC soldiers died during the Gallipoli campaign of World War I. The commemorative service, like the ones observed in Australia, took place at dawn because that was when the amphibious landing of the 1915 campaign took place.
Since the early commemorative observances, which focused specifically on the heavy casualties of the Gallipoli campaign, Australia and New Zealand expanded the event in scope to recognize all Australians and New Zealanders killed in military operations.
"The young men at Gallipoli were the first ANZACs, ordinary young Australians doing their best in a campaign of intense ferocity" said Lt. Col. James McGann, Australian Army liaison officer at Fort Benning, during his remarks. "The disastrous Gallipoli campaign has come to symbolize the Australian soldier's courage, determination, Spartan prowess, humor and most importantly mateship."
"Mateship" is an Australian word that expresses both equality and fellowship. Not only did McGann apply mateship to the relationship between soldiers of the Australian Army but also to that between Australia and the U.S. service members.
"A hundred years ago -- in 1918 -- marks a special year for Australians," said McGann. "Not only was it the final year of the Great War, but it was also the commencement of an unbreakable mateship between the military forces of Australia and the United States."
Australian and U.S. soldiers served in battle together for the first time at Hamel, France, July 4, 1918, during World War I.
"Since that day, Australian and American soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and -women, have served alongside one another in every major conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries," said McGann. "The bonds of mateship between the U.S. and Australian military forces have been tried and tested to the extreme. From the muddy plains of the western front, through to the dense jungles of Vietnam, and to the mountains of Afghanistan.
"When we reflect on ANZAC Day, it is not merely a date of some remote campaign, but rather a spirit," continued McGann. "It is a time to not only reflect on the qualities of past generations of Australians but also those of our allies, who have shared hardships and spilt blood with us on the same battlefields, like those U.S. Soldiers at the Battle of Hamel."
As the guests arrived before the ceremony, they drank coffee mixed with rum (a traditional drink in the Australian Army called "gunfire"), and ate ANZAC biscuits, a rolled-oat cookie containing neither eggs nor dairy so that, historically, the cookies would not spoil in transit when family members shipped them to their soldiers.
A bagpiper played the guests from the breakfast to the memorial. The commemoration included prayers, biblical readings, recitation of "Amazing Grace" and more. Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commander, and McGann and his son laid wreaths at the memorial. After a reading of the "Ode of Remembrance," adapted from Laurence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen," and after the playing of the "Last Post" bugle call, the assembly observed two minutes of silence.
After further prayers, the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band played both the Australian and American national anthems, and the event concluded shortly after dawn.
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