Remembering Planetary Soldiers
May 30, 2016 2 Comments
The phrase comes from Robert Leckie’s The Wars of America and has been apt since the Spanish-American War. American Forces have fought just about everywhere and in just about every climate, in defense of freedom. And so this weekend, from Fort MacPherson, Nebraska, to Manila, The Philippines, to Luxembourg, to Cambridge, England and on Robert E. Lee’s own front lawn, free men and women will honor American soldiers who died for their freedom.
This is Memorial Day weekend when we honor those brave men (and often women as well) who gave their lives to save America, and to keep the beacon that was lighted so long ago, lit. America, the first Revolutionaries, winning our independence in war with the Greatest Empire of the Age and keeping the torch lit down through the centuries.
On 13 December 1636 a Royal Regiment of Foot was organized in Massachusetts from the pre-existing trained bands. From that regiment once known as the North Regiment is descended the 181st Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard.
The unit carries battle honors from French and Indian Wars, American Revolution, War of 1812, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War.
Their honors include: Cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for actions in the ARDENNES (1944), French Croix de Guerre with Gilt Star (1918), French Croix de Guerre with Palm (1945), French Fourragere (1945).
This is the oldest military unit of the United States formed only 16 years after the Mayflower and in existence for 380 years. From that day till this we have depended on our military for the defense of our liberty and they have never failed us.
One of the places mentioned above is the Ardennes, and Uwe E. Reinhardt wrote about where some of those men rest the other day in The Wall Street Journal.
My wife, born in China and reared in Taiwan, and I, born in Germany and a longtime U.S. citizen, first visited the World War II cemeteries when our American-born children were young. We would tell them: Here rest some of the warriors who sacrificed their lives so that your parents and people in many parts of the world would be free from tyranny and could pursue their dreams in freedom. We made it clear to our children that this was not just a grown-up talk—that it was real and part of their proud heritage.
The lesson must have stuck. Last year our eldest child, now a fully grown man, urged me to come along to visit the battlegrounds in Germany, near the Belgian border, where U.S. troops fought so bravely and where so many of them—too many—met their early death.
This time we visited the large American cemetery near the Belgian town of Henri-Chapelle, about 20 miles west of the German city of Aachen. There rest the warriors who fell in the brutal, four-month-long battle of the Hürtgen Forest, followed by the Battle of the Bulge and the eventual push of American forces all the way to the Rhine River.
You can walk along the gravel paths of these cemeteries, and among the thousands of markers—crosses and Stars of David—beneath which the warriors rest. Pick a marker at random and adopt the soldier whose name is chiseled into that marker. Make him your father, or brother, or cousin, or a friend. Imagine him alive, and how you might have hugged him as he shipped out to the distant front.
However brutal his death may have been, you will draw solace from knowing that he rests here, in this serene setting, alongside his buddies who shared his fate. You may even imagine that somehow, don’t ask how, the fallen soldier may know that you are visiting him, to pay your respects.
Of them, General of the Army Douglass MacAurthur said this
Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless.
His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.
But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.
In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory’s eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.
And twenty years after, on the other side of the globe, against the filth of dirty foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of the relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation of those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropic disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.
General MacAurthur’s words seem a bit dated sometimes, his verbiage a bit purple for our tastes but I say the deeds they commemorate are the only justification they need. And so.