WHEATON, Illinois -- The United States of America is now recognized as a world power in part because of its capable Army and military force. That was not necessarily the case as the 1st Infantry Division entered World War I just over 100 years ago.
The "Big Red One" encountered its first real taste of the "Great War" at the Battle of Cantigny. The doughboys, as the Americans were called during the war, performed well in battle and claimed the first victory in the division's storied history May 28, 1918.
The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, hosted the Centennial Commemoration of the Battle of Cantigny on Memorial Day with a wreath-laying ceremony, pigeon release and poppy display at the foot to the entrance of the museum.
"The Counsel General of France in Chicago is proud to partner with Cantigny (Park) and the First Division Museum on the remembrance project," said Frédéric Cholé, French deputy consul general of Chicago. "The capture of the village from the German army turned out to be an important milestone for the coalition of the Allied Forces in Europe. It contributed finally to the Armistice in November of 1918."
The date of the commemoration was not lost on Lou Marsico, senior vice president of operations, McCormick Foundation.
"Today, as we remember the brave American and French Soldiers that fought at Cantigny, and this being Memorial Day, we also remember all of our service women and men who gave their lives to give us the future in which we live now," Marsico said. "We will never forget them. We will never forget Cantigny. We will never forget our European friends."
Chole and Marsico noted the alliance the French and American governments have enjoyed dating back to the American Revolution.
"Cantigny is where the history of the 1st Infantry Division, the famous Big Red One, began," Marsico said. "The Battle of Cantigny is recognized as the place where we Americans began to repay our debt to France for helping the United States win our independence."
Members of the 1st Infantry Division Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard opened the ceremony dressed in their doughboy WWI uniforms.
"It was a humbling experience to post and retire the colors today at the ceremony," said Capt. Jennifer Houle, CGMCG commander. "My unit greatly appreciates (the museum) asking for our support."
Houle also presented a wreath representing all 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers that have made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation during times of war as part of the ceremony.
"I was deeply honored and surprised to be asked to do that," Houle said. "It was very humbling to lay a wreath to not forget about all Soldiers that have fallen (in battle). I was very humbled and very honored to display the wreath."