2017 Veterans Day Address, Locke Mills American Legion Post 68
Once again we gather to commemorate Veterans Day. Originally, Veterans Day, then known as Armistice Day, was created by the U.S. Congress to remember the sacrifices made by American military personnel in WWI, once called “The Great War.” Twenty years later the United States was forced to become embroiled in a truly destructive great war, WWII. Since that awful period, the sacrifice of U.S. military personnel in all conflicts that our nation has fought before and since then have been included in the ceremonies held on this day.
In this year of 2017, we look back one hundred years to the Centennial of the United States entry into WWI on April 6, 1917. Some, looking back, may believe that conflict was ancient history, their great-great-grandfather’s war, it’s being of little concern to their affairs today. They would be decidedly wrong on two points. First, the war resulted in the effective end of Monarchism, the norm in Europe through millennia. Secondly, as the old order passed away, various political theories espoused by the soldiers, citizens, and government ministers who had participated in that war swept through the world like a firestorm in a dry forest, resulting in tens of millions being killed in the conflagration. These political fires have not yet gone out. Many still burn on; others have become embers.
The vast Russian Imperial Empire collapsed in February, 1917. It was in October of that year that Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin launched the devil’s own Communist Revolution, loosely based on the 19th Century Socialist political treatise of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Both Lenin and Trotsky remained somewhat aloof from WWI: Lenin resided in Zurich; Trotsky, residing in France, was expelled to Spain, who expelled him to the United States. When he attempted to return to Russia through Canada, he was arrested and interned there until May 1917, when at last he returned to Petrograd. Stalin, arrested for Bolshevik agitation and exiled in 1913, was conscripted to serve in the military in 1917. Rejected for active service because of his crippled arm, he spent the last four months of his exile in Achinsk, in Central Russia, and was there in February, when the Imperial Government collapsed.
The Russian October Revolution was a bloody affair that presaged a decades long slaughter of the innocents. In Vladimir Lenin’s own words: “No dictatorship of the proletariat is to be thought of without terror and violence.”
Of the three, only Stalin survived to impose his absolute dictatorship, first over the Russian people. After his armies overran Eastern Europe in WWII, leading to the successful destruction of his principal rival’s German Nazi State, his suzerainty was extended from Moscow to Berlin. It would be impossible, in the brief time we have here today, to set forth the whole history of wanton slaughter that was a consequence of the Socialist Bolshevik October Revolution. This sad history fills volumes.
Adolf Hitler, a Corporal messenger of the German Army on the Western Front, in WWI, was twice decorated for valor with the Iron Cross Second and First Class. He came away from the conflict with hatred for all humanity in his heart. He advocated, in a mesmerizing oratorical manner, another form of Socialist theory, styled National Socialism, or the “Only for the ethnically us form of Socialism” first proposed by his subsequent junior partner, Italian political agitator and mountain soldier, Benito Mussolini. Like Communism, National Socialism advocated military aggression in furtherance of its aims over neighboring subjected people. Millions were killed by these Socialist systems before, during, and after WWII.
The primary defeat of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, was brought about by Western Democracies which functioned on a Capitalist model of governance and economic structure. Initially, they did not fare so well in the conflict. A saving hour like the Battle of the Marne, which stopped the German onslaught in WWI, did not materialize in WWII. The best France could conjure up was a massed tank counterattack launched by a tall hawk-nosed French Colonel, Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle at the Battle of Montcornet, which resulted in the Germans’ being pushed back for a short period. Before WWII, de Gaulle had written of the tactic of massing tanks, supported by motorized infantry, into a single formation. This idea, rejected by the French Army, was said to be wholly adopted by the Nazi architects of their successful Panzer Armies.
Brigadier General de Gaulle, who had been a Company Commander in France’s famed 33rd Infantry Regiment in the First World War, subsequently became leader in London of the Free French Forces, He was in command as French soldiers returned to France on D-Day, leading to the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944, and he participated in the final surrender of the German state. A life-long believer of “La Grande France”, as President of the 5th Republic from 1959 to 1969, he took France out of NATO, initially blocked his former ally, Britain, from becoming a member of the European Economic Community, and sought a reduction of United States economic and political leadership in Europe.
Winston Churchill was a leader in Great Britain in both WWI and WWII. In WWI, he was dismissed from the office of First Sea Lord for the disastrous failure of his strategy of organizing an invasion of Germany’s ally, Turkey, at Gallipoli; he partially redeemed himself by being posted as Lt. Colonel, commanding the 6th Welch Fusiliers. In WWII he first returned to office as First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, before being elevated to the office of Prime Minister.
Churchill rallied the British Commonwealth of Nations throughout WWII, initially standing alone against the Nazi menace, until the United States and the Soviet Union joined the conflict. Prime minister from 1940 to 1945, he returned to that office once again from 1951 to 1955. As First Sea Lord in WWI, Churchill had outranked Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy at that time. During Roosevelt’s seven year tenure in that office beginning in 1913, he oversaw procurement and construction; in the first six months after the US entry into the war in early 1917, there was a four-fold expansion of the US Navy. Ironically, in WWII, Roosevelt would become Churchill’s great dominant partner among the Western Democracies.
FDR overcame the infirmities of paralytic illness, which left him mostly wheelchair-bound beginning in 1921; rather than relying on painful steel braces to walk, he usually relied on the support of one of his sons. As President from 1932 to 1945, he led the United States through its darkest hours since the American Revolution. In his first two terms in office he rehabilitated the nation’s economy during the Great Depression, while in the next two terms, he is credited with saving the free civilized world through the defeat of aggressive Fascism in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Emperor Hirohito’s Japan. Roosevelt did not live to see the final victory, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage at the poliomyelitis treatment hospital he had founded in Warm Springs Georgia in April 1945.
Roosevelt was succeeded by Vice President “Give ‘em hell” Harry S. Truman. During WWI, the future President, a Missouri National Guard officer, was promoted to Captain in July 1918 and commanded Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Artillery Brigade, 35th Division, in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, providing support to the newly formed US Army tank brigade commanded by Col. George S. Patton, Jr. Not a single man of his Battery lost his life in France. Truman was legally quite blind, being dependent on glasses for vision. When he enlisted in the Guard in 1905, he was initially rejected; he came back and was accepted after memorizing the entire eye chart. Truman served as President until 1953; while in office, he authorized the dropping of the two atomic bombs that caused the Japanese Government to surrender, thus ending the war, and thereby saving a million American military casualties in the now unnecessary invasion of the home islands. In 1947 he issued the Truman Doctrine to thwart world-wide Communist aggression, and initiated the Marshall Plan that led to the economic recovery of Western Europe. He stood up to North Korean Communist aggression, supporting the United Nations in saving the Western-leaning South Korean government from defeat, and thus denying Communist expansion backed by the Soviet Union and Communist China on the Korean peninsula. In 1948, Truman was first in recognizing the newly created State of Israel. He oversaw the Berlin airlift, and was instrumental in creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949.
We would be remiss today if we did not recognize one more future American President who served militarily in both WWI and WWII. Dwight David Eisenhower, was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. An American Army Officer from before WWI, he sought active combat service, but because of his skill in providing cogent instruction, he was retained in the homeland in training assignments throughout the conflict. Following the war, in 1919, as Major Eisenhower, he led a motorized Army expedition from Washington D.C. to San Francisco to test equipment. This trip impressed upon him the need for better roads; when he was elected President, his signature accomplishment was the construction of the Interstate Highway System, now enjoyed by snowbirds, leisure travelers, adventure-seekers, and commercial enterprises alike.
At the advent of WWII, when asked by Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, whom he should seek out in the US Army to formulate United States War Plans with his office in Washington D.C., General Douglas MacArthur, later Supreme Allied Commander of the Southern Pacific Theater told him that the smartest man he knew in service at that time was Brigadier General Eisenhower. Marshall interviewed Eisenhower, requesting that he produce a strategy for defeating Japan in the Pacific. Eisenhower asked for a desk and typewriter. Working tirelessly, he returned to Marshall later that night with his proposal. The United States adhered to Eisenhower’s plan in the Pacific up to the dropping of the first atomic bomb, an event he could not possibly have foreseen.
Following his stint in the Operations Division, Eisenhower was appointed by Roosevelt, Churchill, and the American/British Joint Chiefs to command the North African Campaign against Rommel, followed by the invasion of Sicily and Italy. In June 1942, he was named Commanding General, European Theater of Operations, where he exhibited his exceptional political skills in holding together the armed alliance of various nations, all of which were represented by generals of towering and sometimes conflicting egos. His Crusade in Europe was successfully concluded when his representatives accepted the Nazi capitulation in the first days of May 1945.
There is not enough time this morning to consider the various participants of WWI who took leading roles in the Asian/Pacific Theater of WWII. Their stories will have to wait until another time. We should, however, note the difference between the soldiers of the United States and those of other nations. This was best expressed by Stephen E. Ambrose, in his book: The Victors: Eisenhower and his Boys: the Men of World War II wherein an unknown American ex-serviceman said at the end of a group interview: “Imagine this. In the spring of 1945, around the world, the sight of a twelve man squad of teenage boys, armed and in uniform, brought terror to people’s hearts. Whether it was a Red Army squad in Berlin, Leipzig, or Warsaw, or a German squad in Holland, or a Japanese squad in Manila, Seoul, or Beijing, that squad meant rape, pillage, looting, wanton destruction, senseless killing. But there was an exception: a squad of GI’s, a sight that brought the biggest smiles you ever saw to people’s lips, and joy to their hearts.
“Around the world this was true, even in Germany, even – after September, 1945 – in Japan. This was because GI’s meant candy, cigarettes, C-rations, and freedom. America had sent the best of her young men around the world, not to conquer but to liberate, not to terrorize but to help. This was a great moment in our history.”
Harry G. Orcutt, Adjutant,
American Legion Jackson-Silver Post 68, Department of Maine