May 28, 1918: Battle of Cantigny

Appropriate that on this Memorial Day we remember the first victory of US troops in World War I:  the battle of Cantigny fought a century ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A relatively minor affair compared to the fighting that would come later in the year, the Americans of the First Division, the Big Red One, acquitted themselves well in their first battle.  Behind a rolling barrage supplied by the French, the men of the 28th Infantry regiment, supported by the 15th Infantry regiment, took the village of Cantigny from the 18th German Army in the early morning hours of May 28th and held it against three days of German counterattacks.  Casualties were about 1600 on each side, with the Yanks taking 250 prisoners.  The citizen soldiers of the  AEF had demonstrated that they could fight and win, and now it was merely a question of whether they would arrive in time to reverse the momentum the Germans were trying to build with their offensives in France.

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Published in: on May 28, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 28, 1918: Battle of Cantigny  
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Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day

 

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

Pope Benedict XVI

My fellow Americans, Memorial Day is a day of ceremonies and speeches. Throughout America today, we honor the dead of our wars. We recall their valor and their sacrifices. We remember they gave their lives so that others might live.

We’re also gathered here for a special event—the national funeral for an unknown soldier who will today join the heroes of three other wars.

When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.

Well, this is especially so today, for in our minds and hearts is the memory of Vietnam and all that that conflict meant for those who sacrificed on the field of battle and for their loved ones who suffered here at home.

Not long ago, when a memorial was dedicated here in Washington to our Vietnam veterans, the events surrounding that dedication were a stirring reminder of America’s resilience, of how our nation could learn and grow and transcend the tragedies of the past.

During the dedication ceremonies, the rolls of those who died and are still missing were read for three days in a candlelight ceremony at the National Cathedral. And the veterans of Vietnam who were never welcomed home with speeches and bands, but who were never defeated in battle and were heroes as surely as any who have ever fought in a noble cause, staged their own parade on Constitution Avenue. As America watched them—some in wheelchairs, all of them proud—there was a feeling that this nation—that as a nation we were coming together again and that we had, at long last, welcomed the boys home.

“A lot of healing went on,” said one combat veteran who helped organize support for the memorial. And then there was this newspaper account that appeared after the ceremonies. I’d like to read it to you. “Yesterday, crowds returned to the Memorial. Among them was Herbie Petit, a machinist and former marine from New Orleans. ‘Last night,’ he said, standing near the wall, ‘I went out to dinner with some other ex-marines. There was also a group of college students in the restaurant. We started talking to each other. And before we left, they stood up and cheered us. The whole week,’ Petit said, his eyes red, ‘it was worth it just for that.'”

It has been worth it. We Americans have learned to listen to each other and to trust each other again. We’ve learned that government owes the people an explanation and needs their support for its actions at home and abroad. And we have learned, and I pray this time for good, the most valuable lesson of all—the preciousness of human freedom. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day  
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Battle Hymn of the Republic

 

Something for the weekend.  I can think of no finer song for a Memorial Day weekend than the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 

Published in: on May 26, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Battle Hymn of the Republic  
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1918 Decoration Day Proclamation of President Wilson

The American-born boys and the Greeks, Irish, Poles, Jews, and Italians who were in my platoon in the World War. A heap of them couldn’t speaker write the American language until they larned it in the Army. Over here in the training camps and behind the lines in France a right-smart lot of them boozed, gambled, cussed, and went A. W. O. L. But once they got into it Over There they kept on a-going. They were only tollable shots and burned up a most awful lot of ammunition. But jest the same they always kept on a-going. Most of them died like men, with their rifles and bayonets in their hands and their faces to the enemy. I’m a-thinkin* they were real heroes. Any way they were my buddies. I jes learned to love them.

SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK

By the President of the United States of America
A ProclamationWhereas, the Congress of the United States, on the second day of April last, passed the following resolution:

“Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That, it being a duty peculiarly incumbent in a time of war humbly and devoutly to acknowledge our dependence on Almighty God and to implore His aid and protection, the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, respectfully requested to recommend a day of public humiliation, prayer, and fasting, to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity and the offering of fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of our cause, His blessings on our arms, and a speedy restoration of an honorable and lasting peace to the nations of the earth;”

And Whereas, it has always been the reverent habit of the people of the United States to turn in humble appeal to Almighty God for His guidance in the affairs of their common life;

Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, the thirtieth day of May, a day already freighted with sacred and stimulating memories, a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting, and do exhort my fellow-citizens of all faiths and creeds to assemble on that day in their several places of worship and there, as well as in their homes, to pray Almighty God that He may forgive our sins and shortcomings as a people and purify our hearts to see and love the truth, to accept and defend all things that are just and right, and to purpose only those righteous acts and judgments which are in conformity with His will; beseeching Him that He will give victory to our armies as they fight for freedom, wisdom to those who take counsel on our behalf in these days of dark struggle and perplexity, and steadfastness to our people to make sacrifice to the utmost in support of what is just and true, bringing us at last the peace in which men’s hearts can be at rest because it is founded upon mercy, justice and good will.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done in the District of Columbia this eleventh day of May, in the year of our Lord Nineteen hundred and eighteen and of the independence of the United States the one hundred and forty-second.

 

 

Published in: on May 23, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on 1918 Decoration Day Proclamation of President Wilson  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Thornton Wilder

 

On Memorial Day I spent the morning working in my office.  Before returning home for lunch, I stopped to visit the grave of my son. The cemetery was beautiful with American flags marking the graves of the veterans.  It brought to mind these lines from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town:

 

“Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on their graves…New Hampshire boys… had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends – the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died about it.”

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Thornton Wilder  
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The Glory of the Soldier

 

Appropriate for the day after Memorial Day.  Starting with the good press that soldiers generally receive in the New Testament, Bishop Sheen in 1954 celebrated the good qualities that typify many of the members of the profession of arms.

Published in: on May 30, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Glory of the Soldier  
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Corpus Christi and Memorial Day

(I am posting this at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might like to read it.)

When Corpus Christi rolls around I always think of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his great eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium written by Saint Thomas at the command of Pope Urban IV to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi instituted by the Pope in 1263.   It says something vastly significant about the Church that perhaps the greatest intellect of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was not only a Doctor of the Church, but also capable of writing this magnificent hymn. 

The last portion of the hymn, Tantum Ergo, has vast significance for my family.  My wife, who is a far better Catholic in my estimation than I am, is a convert.  A Methodist when we married, she converted to the Church a few years later.  She had questions regarding the real presence, and this line from Tantum Ergo resolved them:  Faith tells us that Christ is present,  When our human senses fail.  When our kids came along she would whisper at the Consecration to them:  First it’s bread, now it’s Jesus.  First it’s wine, now it’s Jesus. 

This year Corpus Christi falls on Memorial Day and that strikes me as appropriate when we recall these words of Christ:

Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

John 15: 13

Christ took on our flesh, our blood and our mortality.  He sacrificed His flesh and His blood to save us.  He gave us the great Sacrament so that just as He took on our flesh and blood, we might consume His flesh and His blood and draw close to Him through His grace.

On Memorial Day we honor our war dead.  They lost their flesh and blood in our service and to protect us.  Just as we owe Christ a debt that can never be repaid, so too do we owe a debt to those men who have died for us and that debt can never be repaid to them.  Christ gives us His body and blood to give us grace and His teachings to allow us to lead lives that attempt, oh so imperfectly, to follow in His footsteps.  Our war dead allow us to do this in more freedom and security than most of our ancestors possessed. (more…)

Published in: on May 29, 2016 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on Corpus Christi and Memorial Day  
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Remember Them

 

“I never moved into combat without having the feeling of a cold hand reaching into my guts and twisting them both into knots.”

Audie Murphy, most decorated American soldier of World War II

Something for the weekend.  A section of a speech of Ronald Reagan from 1964, known in Reagan lore as The Speech, set to the song Arrival to Earth.  The weather is quite nice around where I live this Memorial Day weekend and it is easy to forget why we have this three day weekend, and, indeed, to forget why we have our freedom.  The video is a nice reminder. (more…)

Published in: on May 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Remember Them  
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Memorial Day: Our Poor Power to Add or Detract

 

 

Memorial Day is a legacy of the Civil War.  Approximately 640,000-750,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines, North and South,  died in that war.  Out of a population of  some 30,000,000, the death toll would be the equivalent of the US today losing six to seven million dead in a war.  It was a rare family that was untouched by this great national tragedy and the mourning for the lives cut short went on for decades.

Immediately after the war, events honoring the fallen began to be held.   Among the first of these was on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina where a largely black crowd honored the Union dead.  Such memorials quickly spread throughout the Country.  Usually these gatherings involved decorating and cleaning the graves of soldiers.  On May 5, 1868, General John “Blackjack”  A. Logan, an Illinois Congressman and an able combat general during the war, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that commemorations of the Union war dead and the decorating of their graves should occur on each May 30.   “It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.”

The May 30 Decoration Day events became a fixture of life in the Northern states.  The states of the old Confederacy had similar events but on different dates, varying from state to state.  The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but the name Decoration Day remained for the holiday until after World War II.  As Civil War veterans aged and passed from the scene, the day was broadened to remember all of America’s war dead.  The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968 moved Memorial Day to the fourth Monday in May.

As Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address, it is “altogether fitting and proper” that we honor our war dead, but in what way can we honor them?  The monuments we raise to them are really for us, to remind us of the value of valor and sacrifice.  They do not walk among us to view them.  They cannot tell us what they think of the speeches praising them or read the blog posts written about them.  Their lives are done and they have been judged by God, as we all will be judged, and are now in Eternity.  Other than the important task of praying for the repose of their souls, nothing that we say or do about them on Earth has any impact upon them.

We honor and remember them not to aid them, but to aid ourselves.  Gratitude is one of the noblest of human emotions, and it would say something appalling about us if we did not express it to our war dead.  Almost all men fear death, and we honor those who faced death for us.  Men who have had their lives taken away in our service, are entitled to all the gratitude we can muster.  If our war dead could speak to us I suspect they would echo the sentiments of the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima, India:

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”.
(more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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May 1, 1865: First Memorial Day

Memorial Day

 

The first post war ceremony honoring Union war dead occurred on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina, as reported at the time by The Charleston Daily Courier:

The ceremonies of the dedication of the ground where are buried two hundred and fifty-seven Union soldiers, took place in the presence of an immense gathering yesterday. Fully ten thousand persons were present, mostly of the colored population. The ground had been previously laid out, the mounds of the graves newly raised, and a fine substantial fence erected around the enclosure by twenty-four colored men, “Friends of the Martyrs,” and members of the “Patriotic Association of Colored Men.” The exercises on the ground commenced with reading a Psalm, singing a hymn, followed by a prayer. The procession was formed shortly after nine o’clock, and made a beautiful appearance, nearly every one present bearing a handsome boquet of flowers. The colored children, about twenty-eight hundred in number, marched first over the burial ground, strewing the graves with their flowers as the passed.

After the children came the “Patriotic Association of Colored Men,” an association formed for the purpose of assisting in the distribution of the Freedmen’s supplies. These numbered about one hundred members. “The Mutual Aid Society,” an association formed for the purpose of burying poor colored people, about two hundred strong followed next. These were followed by the citizens generally, nearly all with boquets, which were also laid upon the graves. While standing around the graves the school children sung, “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America” and “Rally Rund the Flag,” and while marching, “John Brown’s Body, &c.” The graves at the close of the procession had all the appearance of a mass of roses. Among those present at the speaker’s stand inside the enclosure, were General Hartwell, Colonel Gurney, Colonel Beecher, Rev. Mr. Lowe, Mr. James Redpath and others. (more…)

Published in: on May 1, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 1, 1865: First Memorial Day  
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