Why World War I Matters

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By MAJ (P) Franklin Huffman

 Noncommissioned officers of the 77th Divison's 304th Machine gun battalion receive instruction in operating the Vickers machine gun from British Army Sgt. D. Harris, a member of the 44th Machinegun Company of the 44th Battalion in May 1918 in this still from a 1918 silent movie , "Training with the British Army in Picardy, May 1918" on the National Archve's wesbite. The 77th Division, composed of draftee Soldiers from New York City, was one of five American divisons which was trainined by the British Army after arriving in France. ( U.S. Army photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps via National Archives)

Noncommissioned officers of the 77th Divison's 304th Machine gun battalion receive instruction in operating the Vickers machine gun from British Army Sgt. D. Harris, a member of the 44th Machinegun Company of the 44th Battalion in May 1918 in this still from a 1918 silent movie , "Training with the British Army in Picardy, May 1918" on the National Archve's wesbite. The 77th Division, composed of draftee Soldiers from New York City, was one of five American divisons which was trainined by the British Army after arriving in France. ( U.S. Army photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps via National Archives)

There are 13,484 reasons World War I matters to today’s Army Reserve Soldier.

That is the number of Americans killed in action “Over There,” along with another 52,721 who were wounded in the fight. And these numbers reflect only those Soldiers serving in National Army divisions, the forerunner of today’s Army Reserve, not the regular Army or the National Guard. National Army units suffered 26 percent of all American casualties during the war.

Not interested? Then think what Europe was like before the war. A continent covered in empire, with the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the Austo-Hungarian Empire dominating the European landscape. The re-shaping of Europe’s internal boundaries following the Treaty of Versailles, including the creation of several new countries (or the return of historically old ones), caused a human migration that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of America.

Still not impressed?

No less a man than former Army Chief of Staff General Matthew Ridgway, widely recognized as one of the finest Soldiers this nation has ever produced, said it was the duty of every American soldier to know, respect, and live up to the history of the soldiers who came before him. Ridgway believed the spirit of the Minutemen of the Revolutionary War was in every American soldier. He believed the veterans of Gettysburg, the Doughboys of World War I, his own generation’s glorious history in World War II, should be remembered – and their examples of courage and leadership should be followed and burned into the psyche of every soldier in uniform.

Of course, times were different then. Actual history, good and bad, was taught in the schools and universities, unlike today’s politically-correct versions of what history should have been, rather than what it was. Then again, it’s not surprising that Americans do not know, or appreciate, the military history of the United States as less than one-half of one-percent of the population wears a uniform. Today’s service members are part of an elite corps. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016, only seven percent of the U.S. population were veterans, compared to 18 percent in 1980. The Pew Research Center reports that, today, 61 percent of Americans have an immediate family member who was/is in the military – but only one-third of them are below age 30.

So what does this have to do with World War I, and why does it matter?

Because we share a bond with our forefathers – the soldiers who came before us. For it is their suffering and hardships, their devotion to duty when all seemed bleak, their unswerving steadfastness to fighting for the American way of life, that we owe a debt – one paid not only by serving in today’s Army, but by making sure that those who went before us are remembered; that the name on a tombstone in your churchyard or city park means something.

This is especially true for the 218,000 white marble crosses that mark the graves of our men and women in cemeteries overseas, including the 4,153 Americans at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery and the 14,246 buried at the Meuse-Argonne memorial in France. These two cemeteries recall not only the lives of those faithful Americans, but the part they played in the two largest American offenses of the Great War that turned the tide of battle in favor of the Allies, and led to the Armistice on 11 November 1918 – Yet another reason you should know your history.

Why is Veterans Day celebrated on the 11th of November? Why do church bells ring out around the world on the eleventh day of the 11th month at the 11th hour? Because that is the exact moment the “War to End All Wars” ceased – and the helmets of more than one million American soldiers were removed to honor the 13,484 Americans who gave their lives on foreign soil – all for the cause of the very freedom that we enjoy today.

That is why World War I matters.

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