From the first musket shots at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, the American Dream of each generation, each time, each era has been dependent upon a select few selflessly setting their lives aside, that we, the others, away from the front, sleep safely at home.
Men and women who for reasons we shall never know, were born to serve. Born with a feeling inside, burning deep from within, that their life was to serve, to protect, to defend. And for over 240 years, at every turn, at every time, they have done just that.
A few thoughts from one of those times…..
It seemed like forever ago now. It was just late summer that the Germans were on the run and the war would be won by Christmas. That is, until the ego of one General Sir Bernard Montgomery got the better of him. When in September his risky Operation Market Garden to end the war quickly accomplished nothing but thousands more Allied dead and the Wehrmacht safely behind their lines, it was obvious to both sides that there would be no “I’ll be home for Christmas” for that year.
Yet by December, the Allies had recovered and the American units scattered throughout the Ardennes region had a reasonable expectation of at least a quiet Christmas. Away from home yes, but alive, well, and all things considered, a helluva lot better off than they had ever expected after the hell of Normandy just six months earlier.
Until out of the morning mist of December 16th, 1944 over 200,000 German troops supported by over 1,000 tanks and auxiliary personnel launched Adolf Hitler’s last gasp at greatness. As the ill equipped and unprepared American units pulled back, the battle maps showed a bulge in the Allied lines that would garner the battle its now legendary name.
The American Army’s official website notes that “in terms of participation and losses, the Battle of the Bulge is arguably the greatest battle in American military history” but to the 19 year old kid from Kansas or the 20 something “tough guy from Brooklyn” who found themselves in the middle of it, there was nothing “great” about it. For the next two weeks they would not only have to face German tanks and artillery fire, but somehow survive the most brutal winter in decades. And do it without winter uniforms and low on ammunition.
Within the next two weeks and the mopping up that would last well into January, 1945 another 19,000 American soldiers would never see home again. And tragically, many would die not from enemy fire, but from exposure to a cold so bitter that every veteran of that battle would tell you could never be imagined, you simply had to have been there.
Move forward to this time and we once again have American troops in harms way. From the mountains of Afghanistan back to the sands of Iraq and Syria and around the globe, the best of our best follow in the footsteps of their brothers and sisters before them, facing down the enemy there, that we don’t have to here.
We can debate whether they should be there or not, but we cannot debate their dedication to duty and their commitment to us, the American people, that keep our homes safe and at peace this Christmas Day.
For as another stanza of Mr. Marks famous poem goes:
“I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home,
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,
I can carry the weight of killing another
Or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To insure for all time that this flag will not fall.”
“So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.”…..
So wherever you are today, whomever you are with, whatever your circumstances, please take but a moment and in silent respect send a Merry Christmas thank you their way. God Bless them, one and all.
Editor’s Note: A version of this column first appeared in the December 25, 2016 print edition of the Joplin Globe.
To read the entire poem at Michael Marks website, click here.