by Colonel (Retired) Wes Martin

Throughout the nation, Americans can immediately recall what they were doing when they heard the news of the 9-11 attacks. Whatever we were doing, it became past tense because we immediately came together as a nation. Just as our parents before us, when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, we knew we were going to war. Rarely have we been attacked on our own soil, but each time it was met with a permanent resolve. As Americans, we now had been issued the challenge of our forefathers.

The first challenge came on the 19th of April, 1775. Before that day was over, what started in the morning hours at Lexington and Concord, would result in a sixteen-mile field of fire as the British attempted an organized march back to Boston. It was planting season, and all across New England, colonists left their plows and shouldered their muskets. Those who were close enough, engaged the British that very day. Those who were farther away, organized into militias under commands of leaders like Israel Putnam and John Stark, veterans of the French and Indian Wars.

Concord was the spark, and two months later the battle at Breeds Hill made it into a War of Independence. For the next five years, the war would move into three different phases in three different parts of the country. As the Continentals moved through these phases, men from New Hampshire and New York were holding the ranks and manning the cannon beside men from Georgia and Virginia. Tried and tested, often defeated in battle, they were becoming more bonded together as a nation and as a unified force with a shared vision and purpose. That legacy lives with us still. At Yorktown, Americans from all thirteen colonies were present to share in the defeat of Cornwallis.

Yet, the future of the nation was still not secure. Another very important, and now all but forgotten, event was to take place that would cement the military into permanent loyalty to the civilian government. The British were still present in America, and the Continental Congress was unable to effectively lead a nation. The greatest threat emerging was not from the British stationed in New York City, but within the main American force encamped at nearby Newburg. Dissatisfied with the Continental Congress, the officer corps was threatening to take over the government and place George Washington in charge.

This plan could have succeeded if not for having one major adversary - George Washington. Calling his officers to an assembly, he took to the stage. He remind the dissatisfied officers that they had successfully fought to create a democracy, stating, "Let me conjure you in the name of our common country as you value your sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and you regard the military and national character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes under any specious pretenses to overturn the liberties of our country."

At this moment, George Washington ended forever any thought of a military takeover of what would become the United States and forever turned the American military into protector of democracy. Unlike kings and tyrants who take from the people to build an empire centered on themselves, America's Commander-In-Chief set the standard for giving of themselves to build a nation centered on the people. That standard has remained to become the foundation of the American military to this day.

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 the nation's capitol ablaze, the British sailed to New Orleans. The British did not consider a backwoods general, a few regulars, a community of local citizens, and volunteers from the deep country to be much of a match for the army that had recently destroyed Napoleon. However, in the sting of this battle, the invaders proved to be no competition for Kentucky long rifles shouldered by frontiersmen, and cannons manned by pirates. When the battle was over, the British had suffered 5,000 casualties in contrast to a dozen American dead.

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 or gray, their sympathies North or South, it was once again citizens of America, regulars and volunteers, who answered the call. They held their ground in Pennsylvania and defended their homes in Virginia. When it was over, the house divided was still standing. It was as if the survival of the Union was a divine act because the challenges of the next century would require "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The Second World War would be the greatest challenge that humanity has ever cast upon itself. The power of the axis allegiance was sowing hatred on its own citizens and all mankind. A war machine of battle wagons, tanks, and planes threatened to overrun the world. 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: on land, at sea, and in the air. In the early days at Wake Island, Bataan, Corregidor, and Kasserine Pass; American forces were worked over pretty hard. But by the time of Midway, El Guettar and Sicily, this nation was on the offensive. That offensive did not stop until total victory was achieved. Once again, as a nation, the United States proved its ability to overcome the difficult and stay in the fight until successful conclusion.

One of the greatest evaluations of how much America can endure and achieve in war came from General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to West Point. Reflecting on his experiences throughout the first half of the twentieth century, General MacArthur remarked "…those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God. And twenty years after, on the other side of the globe, against the filth of dirty foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of the relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation of those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropic disease, the horror of stricken areas of war. Their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory - always victory, always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of Duty, Honor, Country."

Today, the numbers of men and women who served during the days of MacArthur, Nimitz, Doolittle, and Puller are becoming fewer and fewer. Every day, we lose more and more of those we have come to know as "The Greatest Generation." We will never lose their legacy. With their dedication to duty and their commitment to the nation, they returned and further built the cities, worked the plants, constructed the highways and explored the sciences. Before they were done, they had turned propeller-driven aircraft into jets, rockets into spaceships, coal energy into nuclear, and a struggling economy into the most powerful in the world. Backed by the military forces of the next generation, without firing a shot, they collapsed the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. In reality, what they accomplished, both as citizens and as citizen warriors, was a continuation of what every American generation before them had accomplished. They defended our nation in time of need and built it stronger and better during time of peace and even during time of war. They were not alone, they had the might of a great nation behind them. This might and industrial strength was no small factor. It was thoroughly recognized by Admiral Yamamoto following his successful attack on Pearl Harbor, when he stated, "I fear all we have accomplished is to awaken the sleeping giant, and leave him with a terrible resolve." With the greatest of endurance and determination, our parents fulfilled that resolve. They have good reason to look back at their accomplishments with pride.

They have equal reason to look to the future with pride, especially in the service members who followed behind them and continue to fill the ranks and fight this nation's conflict to this day. American warriors continued to fight through the never-ending mountains of South Korea; in Vietnam, in the western hemisphere countries of Panama and Grenada, in Bosnia, and into the Middle East. All this time, even though the locations and environments described by General MacArthur have changed, their dedication to their nation remains firm.

Today our nation is involved in two conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan. Every war our nation has fought has been significantly different than the previous conflict. This time we are not fighting against nations with established militaries. This time is a war against extremists who are twisting a religion for their own purposes. This war is for humanity.

MacArthur's high esteem for the American service member has not been tarnished. Every day, our warriors go out to meet the threat and defend the communities against brutality. Our warriors are providing the necessary time for the governments to develop and the people to one day be able to defend themselves. When our warriors are attacked, they operate firmly together. There have no self-serving individuals within their ranks, only members of a team dedicated to each other. There is often a misperception about what warriors are fighting for in the middle of a battle. Some will say the nation, others will say the Constitution, and even other claim it is for the flag. I assure you when in the middle of a fire-fight, it is for none of these. When engaged in a battle, warriors serve the nation, defend the Constitution, and rally to the flag. What they are fighting for is the one on the left and the one on the right. They know if any one break ranks, the strength of the team is weakened and at greater risk of being destroyed. No true warrior is going to place personal needs or desire for safety above any other team members. When an attack does take the life of a fellow warrior, the survivors continue the fight. They continue it at that moment and that day. The next day they once again prepare their equipment and move out to complete their mission. Between their operations, they are always working to become better. Warriors have a firm belief, "If you get caught in a fair fight, you didn't come prepared." Any person who questions the dedication and capabilities of today's warriors needs to go on a patrol with them. That person will return with a completely changed opinion.

So where do these American warriors come from? The answer is simple, they come from a nation determined to do what is right and to stand up against any force that wants to destroy what our ancestors fought and worked so valiantly to secure. Let's return to 9-11 and take another look at that day. Just as we agree that the War on Terrorism began that day, we have to agree that it began on Flight 93. Passengers of that plane knowing that they were facing death willingly responded to the threat and their nation's call. They were not going to remain in their seats while their plane was flown into a critical building. Later we would learn that building was the White House. As good as the Secret Service is, there is no way their agents could have stood on the steps of the White House and prevented the plane from crashing. Sacrificing their lives in the fight, the passengers brought an end to that attack.

Answering their call to duty were the first responders of law enforcement, fire department, and medical emergency. Placing their safety behind their mission, they were determined to minimize loss of life and to prevent further destruction and chaos. Even as many of them died in the collapsing of the World Trade Center towers, those surviving continued to answer the call of duty.

On November 11th we honor American veterans - those who have served in our nation's defense and put the needs of others ahead of themselves. First referred to Armistice Day, it recognized the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the First World War was brought to a close. That was called "the war to end all wars," but just as wars have continued, so has the commitment of America's service members. Even though our veterans have now lain aside the duties of an American service member, they have not released themselves from the commitments to their nation. We see it in our daily lives. These are the people who continue to serve their nation in every way possible.

Whether Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard; they served and continue to serve their nation with pride and dignity. They are supported by a nation that provides the young men and women who fill today's ranks. They are also embraced by that same nation as the protectors of liberty. We recognize the First Amendment to the Constitution as providing freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble, and freedom to address grievances to the government. Our Bill of Rights made these freedoms law, our military ensure they remain as a way of life.

All across the globe, our future veterans now serving in the Active, Guard, and Reserve forces continue to defend our nation. From the Korean Demilitarized Zone, to the Middle East, throughout America, on every continent, they are answering the Battle Cry of Freedom. They are our nation's best deterrent to all-out conflict. The best deterrent is a strong and ready defense. That objective is accomplished and maintained every day.

One fact will remain as long as this nation stands, both military and civilian, we are in the fight together. Together we serve the nation, we defend the Constitution, we rally to the Flag, and we fight for the one on the left and the one on the right.

©2021 Wes Martin