By U.S. ArmyNovember 9, 2011
Before there was 9-11, there was 11-11. Eighty-three years ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent on the Western Front, officially ending World War I. It was the day the armistice went into effect between the Allies and Germany. When the United States had
entered the war on April 6, 1917, the slaughter between France and Great Britain on one side and Germany on the other had stalemated in trenches for two and a half years. The arrival of a million enthusiastic (but untested) U.S. troops into France by the summer of 1918 began to tip the balance in
the Allies' favor. The United States basked in the glow of victory, but during its 19-month involvement in the war, suffered approximately 117,500 deaths.
Americans at home greeted news of the armistice with such great rejoicing that Armistice Day became an annual holiday. What we now know as World War I was then commonly called the Great War, which had claimed more than 15 million dead all together. With an idealistic President Woodrow
Wilson leading the nation, it was fought as "the war to end all wars." But as the world soon learned, it was not to be the last war, and after World War II, the United States changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day, to honor all veterans of the U.S. armed forces, both living and dead. On behalf of some of those who died in World War I, the poem "In Flanders Fields" poignantly states:
"In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place....
"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields."
Although written by a Canadian, the poem became popular in the United States, and its references to poppies gave us an enduring symbol of remembrance that veterans organizations use to this day to recall our fallen warriors. But the poem also issued us an enduring challenge:
"Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high...."
American service members, past and present, accepted that challenge then and have continued to accept it against new foes. But if our enemy today is much different from our enemies in past conflicts, today's U.S. serviceman/woman is vastly better prepared than the U.S. "Doughboy" of World War I.
To borrow from a recent presentation by retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North about the average American serving in uniform today: "He's a high school graduate. He's a volunteer. He is brighter, better educated, better trained, better led and equipped than any soldier, sailor, airman guardsman or marine than any other country in history. He goes to war wearing an eight-pound Kevlar helmet, a 45-pound flak jacket. And today in Kandahar it was 110 degrees, and he'll hike up those hills and walk back down them without complaining. ... He can use his body like a weapon and use his weapon like a part of his body, and he can take a life or he can save one because he's been so remarkably well trained."
North also related the true story of a Navy corpsman, who during a firefight in the early days of the war in Iraq, repeatedly ran into harm's way to retrieve wounded servicemen, sometimes carrying two at a time. On one of his dashes to an awaiting helicopter with a casualty on his shoulder, a member of an Australian film crew shouted at him, "Don't you know that's not a Marine?"
(The soldier the corpsman carried was, in fact, an Iraqi Soldier.) "Why are you doing that?" The corpsman answered, "Because that's what Americans do." This alone exemplifies the splendid character of our warriors in all our services today and why we are considered "Americans" and not "Americant's."
All of you enjoy the long weekend and remember those who served and have sacrificed so much, both past and present, during this very special time. Always be safe and be proud of our the 470th Brigade, our Profession of Arms and how you, the Professional, is solely responsible for its continued success. San Antonio is in the middle of its "Celebrate Americas Military" events and I would encourage each and every one of you to take advantage of the scheduled activities.
Thanks for all you do.