CANTIGNY, France -- Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division were selected to attend the U.S. Army in World War I Centennial Commemoration in Cantigny, France, over the 2018 Memorial Day weekend.
The first ceremony held at Cantigny was a rededication of the 1st Inf. Div. monument designed to honor the nearly 1,000 Soldiers of the "Big Red One" who were casualties during the battle to liberate the village from German forces on May 28, 1918.
The monument was originally placed in a field on the outskirts of Cantigny, but was recently relocated to an area closer to the village center.
"You see our motto is that there's no mission too difficult and no sacrifice too great," said Brig. Gen. Richard Coffman, 1st Inf. Div. deputy commanding general for maneuver, to the crowd gathered at the ceremony. "The mission was difficult -- we made many, many sacrifices … but, we know that freedom is not free and America was willing and always will be willing to support its great allies."
Robert J. Smith, Fort Riley Museum Complex director and historian, along with other historians from the U.S. Army Center for Military History, led the Soldiers on a historic tour to the significant areas in Cantigny. This tour helped explain why the battle of Cantigny is such an important part of 1st Inf. Div. history.
"The battle of Cantigny was fought here over 100 years ago; it was an extremely significant battle for the United States Army," Smith said. "It was the first significant action of American participation in World War I. The battle inflicted nearly 1,000 casualties for the 28th Infantry and the 1st Inf. Div."
"Even though it was a small-scale battle, it had morale and political significance in that it showed that the American Soldier who had just entered the war, about a year later, could take on veteran German soldiers that had been fighting for four years and beat them. It also proved to our allies that the American Soldier and particularly the 1st Div. Soldier was able to shoulder its burden and assist our allies in World War I."
As part of the education tour, Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley commanding general, led 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers through the village of Cantigny, walking along the same route that their predecessors took a century ago.
"The American Soldier advanced out into Cantigny in the very early morning around 6:45 in the morning into the village of Cantigny after about an hour and half (long) artillery barrage that completely devastated the village," Smith said. "They took their objectives by 7:30 a.m. … However, German counter-battery fire and German counter attacks were the reason for causing so many casualties amongst the 1st ID (Infantry Division) Soldiers (of the) 28th Infantry."
Following the ceremony at the new monument site and education tour, the group was then invited to a barbecue hosted by the citizens of Cantigny.
"You can take my word for it that, when needed, the Big Red One will always be here -- for this nation, for Europe and the continent at large," Coffman said. "Let every generation learn and every generation remember the sacrifices of these men and their families are the cost of freedom and that we are willing to pay that."
After Cantigny, the group proceeded to the Somme American Cemetery in Bony, France, where the 1st Inf. Div. Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard, clad in WWI era "doughboy" uniforms, served as the color guard for a Memorial Day ceremony.
"These ceremonies have truly been a memorable experience for myself and the 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers," said Capt. Joshua Sanchez, 1st Inf. Div. deputy electronic warfare officer and action officer for trip. "Visiting the battlefields in which our forefathers fought in left a lasting impression on the all the Soldiers. The highlight of the week was when Maj. Gen. Martin led them into the village of Cantigny, emulating the historic charge the First Division Soldiers conducted over a century ago."
The following day the Soldiers were able to attend Memorial Day commemorations at the Oise-Asine American Cemetery.
"This served as an opportunity for modern Soldiers to not only get to learn more about the unit which they represent, but to get to pay homage to their predecessors," Sanchez said. "I honestly think that they will all walk away as better Soldiers for having gone on this trip."