by Colonel Wes Martin

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world.

In 1886, Ralph Waldo Emerson prepared the above words for the dedication of the battle monument at Concord. One-hundred and eleven years earlier the citizens of Concord answered the call to arms - an answer that forever changed them from citizens to "citizen-soldiers." Providence looked down on that small farm village and gave it an immortal place in history.

Today, we recognize that battle - the spark that ignited the Revolutionary War - as the birth of a nation. But we must also remember that "the shot heard 'round the world" came from the musket of a Minuteman, a citizen-soldier. From that day to the present, whenever this nation has been in danger, its citizens have answered the call to defend freedom.

The citizen-soldiers who left their homes that April 1775 morning, and over the next few years, did so with more uncertainty than at any other time in our nation's history. In the fields of battle, a trained soldier will brave death. He expects his skills and experienced leadership to bring him home again. But the men of the Revolution had few combat skills and most of their leaders were not experienced. They were challenging the greatest army in the world. The chances of their success were minimal. Even if they survived, failure could have meant the loss of their homes. But what they lacked in skill, leadership, and equipment, they compensated for in spirit. Inside them was a determination to stand together and fight for a brighter future.

Over the ensuing years of the Revolution that spirit would be tested. In some, it would weaken. For many, it would be extinguished. But no matter how hard that spirit was battered, it never died. Ignited in the fields of Concord, it blazed to Boston. It then spread through New England and on to Saratoga. From the frozen fields of Valley Forge, across the icy waters of the Delaware River, it raged into Trenton. It flared throughout the south and brought victory at Yorktown. The flame of this spirit could not remain one on continent. It jumped across the waters and spread throughout Europe. From the flint of a citizen-soldier's musket came the spark that determined the course of history.

Following the American Revolution, a generation would pass before citizens needed to pick up arms again and come to the nation's defense. Victories in the War of 1812 were few and far between for the Americans. After setting Washington ablaze, the British sailed to New Orleans. American opposition seemed almost non-existent. A backwoods general, a few regulars and a community of local citizens could hardly be considered a match for the army that had recently destroyed Napolean. However, in the sting of this battle, the invaders proved to be no match for Kentucky long rifles shouldered by frontiersmen and cannons manned by pirates.

Another generation would pass, and once again the nation called upon its citizens. Unfortunately, this time it was a war from within. Whether their uniforms were blue of gray, their sympathies North or South, it was once again citizens who answered the call. They held their ground in Pennsylvania and defended their homes in Virginia. When it was over the house once divided was still standing. Survival of the Union had to be a divine act. The challenges of the next century would require "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

During the Spanish-American War it was not regulars but rather volunteers who charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt. Less than twenty years later, American citizens again left their families, donned military uniforms, and took their fighting spirit to a distant shore. In this war, Germany had defeated Russia and was turning its full force against the battered French and British forces. But all was not quiet on the western front. The Allies were being joined in force by Americans determined not to return home until it was over, "over there."

The Second World War would be the greatest challenge that humanity has ever brought upon itself. The power of an Axis allegiance was casting hatred on its own citizens and upon all mankind. A war machine of battle wagons, tanks, and planes threatened to overrun the world. Extermination camps eliminated an estimated six million lives. The Allied nations were fighting valiantly, but could not be expected to hold. Suddenly, the United States was in the fight. Once again its citizens answered the call. The early days at Wake Island, Baatan, Corregidor, and Kasserine Pass were rocky. But by the time of Midway, El Guettar, and Sicily, this nation was on the offensive. The regulars were now being fully augmented by its citizen-service members.

Perhaps the ultimate Marine, Chesty Puller, stated it best. Following the Battle of Bergen Bay, he confided to a Reserve Forces Marine, "When war comes, there will never be enough professionals to do the job." Years earlier, it was Will Rogers who pointed out that the United States is the only nation that waits until it is in a war before getting ready. The words of both American icons reflected a realization in national defense. After World War II, the American government recognized that it must maintain a Ready Reserve and National Guard. Future conflicts will be "come as you are" with no time to train and induct citizen-service members. The level of immediate readiness will determine wartime success.

During Desert Storm American military leadership learned the true strength of its citizen military. Military skills are best suited where matched with civilian occupations. In their civilian positions, military police serve as law enforcement officers; medical doctors conduct private practice; signal specialists work for the communications industry; and engineers build communities. Here we also find the meaning of the concept "twice the citizen." Every workday, these citizens go forward to further build this nation. Then on weekends, during active-duty training, in times of emergency, and during conflict they turn their attention toward a stronger national defense.

The battle monument that now stands watch over Concord Bridge portrays a Minuteman – a farmer leaving his plow to answer freedom's call. From the moment the first citizens of Concord answered that call to today, and certainly in the future, our nation has accrued an ever-increasing debt. A debt of support and gratitude owed to members of the citizen-military. Like the Minuteman the stone monument represents, today's citizen-servicemembers are firm in their commitment. Whether answering the beat of drums or the call of bugles, they continue to march through the pages of history. Yesterday's heroes are no more; tomorrow's are yet to be born. Yet together with those of today, achieved is the ultimate goal, the defense of the United States.

On this green bank, by this soft stream, We set today a votive stone; That memory may their deed redeem, When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

The legacy of the citizen-Soldier/Sailor/Airman/Marine lives on. It will never die because its spirit is eternal. The nation sparked that April morning in 1775 survives because its citizens continue to come forward to protect it. The shot heard 'round the world has echoed for more than two centuries. It has sounded on every continent and has been felt in the heart of every person who wants to be free. The men of Concord sent a challenge to the world, and citizen-servicemembers ever since have stood ready to answer freedom's call.

Spirit, that made those spirits dare To die, and leave their children free, Bid Time and Nature gently spare The shaft we raise to them and thee.

©2021 Wes Martin