SAINT-MIHIEL, France -- U.S. and French service members and civilians joined together throughout Northern France in late September to honor the bravery and sacrifices of the American Expeditionary Forces who liberated the area a century ago.
More than 1.25 million Americans deployed to France to join Allies during the Great War. Of those, hundreds of thousands were National Army Soldiers (the forebears of today's Army Reserve Soldiers), who tipped the balance in favor of the Allies in decisive offensives such as the Second Battle of the Marne, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.
While time has passed, the significance of their actions has not diminished -- especially for today's Army Reserve Soldiers who proudly wear their unit insignia.
Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Reserve, traveled to France with other Army Reserve Soldiers to walk those historic battlefields and partake in WWI commemorations.
"It is vitally important that we remember the Army Reserve's contribution to WWI. We had our genesis here," said Roper. "This war helped shape the Army Reserve we are today."
WWI helped shape how we are organized, how we fight, and the technologies we use, said Roper. WWI was our first introduction to the modern battlefield which included tanks, motor vehicles, aircraft, long range artillery, and machine guns.
"We had some hard lessons to learn -- and we adapted," said Roper. "We became more agile and those lessons we learned continue to benefit us today. We are an Army on the move. We're building readiness, we're building a greater level of lethality -- and we can trace our roots right back here to WWI."
Those roots include the 77th, 78th, 79th, 80th, 81st, 89th, 90th and 91st Divisions, which all fought in France during WWI and whose legacies are carried in the Army Reserve today.
"There were so many units from WWI that have their lineage in the Army Reserve today," said Roper. "We have this personal connection through these units and the commands that are still thriving today."
By the time America entered the world's first global war, there were already 18 million dead, 23 million maimed, and six million missing. The war was at a stalemate and the newly formed American Expeditionary Forces were still untested.
Their will and ability were proven during the battle for Saint-Mihiel. The unexpected American attack was a stunning victory and set the stage for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the last great battle of the war. That offensive is still the largest in U.S. military history, covering the entire Western Front with 1.2 million U.S. service members. It lasted 47 days and was our nation's second deadliest battle.
"Our Soldiers carried a heavy load, but they were brave and steadfast," said Roper. "They knew not everyone would make it home, but the cause for freedom and liberty was so important that they were willing to sacrifice it all."
In total, American Expeditionary Forces suffered 204,002 wounded -- and 53,402 killed.
"We shed a lot of blood here. We committed millions of Soldiers, and unfortunately, thousands never made it home," said Roper. "The rate of casualties, wounded and killed in action, averaged almost one per minute in 200 days of combat."
That sacrifice and heroism by Americans a century ago is still deeply appreciated by the French today, said Roper.
"They know that their liberty and their freedom came with a heavy cost -- and a part of that cost was American bloodshed," said Roper. "When you talk to the town's people, they really appreciate the sacrifice of the American Soldier. They have a sincere appreciation because they have not forgotten what happened here a hundred years ago."
Whether a hundred years ago or today, time has not changed our ability to overcoming any challenge, said Roper.
"It still comes down to the American Soldier; the bravery, the commitment and the selfless service has not changed," said Roper. "Everything else can change around it, but we still equip a Soldier and send them to combat with great leadership -- and they always accomplish the mission."