I was once again honored and privileged to be asked to speak at the Rice Lake Memorial Day service, held in Veterans Memorial Park along the lakeshore. It was a beautiful day and a large crowd turned out to honor our veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Vietnam veteran Larry Anderson was our master of ceremonies. The Bethany Brass provided the music, accompanying Robert Heinze, who sang the National Anthem. (And nobody knelt during its singing, either.) Local pilot Doug Karis dropped a memorial wreath onto the lake behind us. City council member Dan Lawler welcomed everyone on behalf of the City of Rice Lake, and then I was introduced by Larry.
At the back of our park are five plaques, each one honoring a branch of our armed forces. My topic today was these plaques, and the services they represent, the beginnings of our military branches and those who have served in their ranks.
Here is the text of my remarks:
Thank you, Larry. Ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens, I am once again honored and privileged to be asked to share a few words with you on this special occasion, when we gather as a community, as Americans, to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation, and their families. I dare say that each one of us in this beautiful park today has a direct connection to someone who served. Many of you here today are veterans yourselves. I think every one of the rest of us knows someone who wore the uniform, and quite likely we can all look back in our family history and point out an ancestor who rallied to the colors.
That ancestor of ours could have been a soldier, a sailor, an airman, a marine, a coast guardsman. Maybe he or she served in more than one branch. Many of us here today might have a piece of great-granddad’s uniform, a cap or a medal, or some other keepsake. Some of you veterans may still have your old uniforms, and props to you if you can still fit into them!
Some years ago, my daughter moved to Boston and later on I went there to visit her. I had never been there before, and Kim wanted to show me the sights. She knew I’m a history buff, so she said, “Dad, we’re going to walk the Freedom Trail.” If you’ve ever been to Boston, you might have walked it, too. The trail starts in Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, established way back in 1634. Leaving the Common and following the red-brick path, over the next two and a half miles you will see more than a dozen historical sites, ending when you cross the Charles River and see the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” perhaps the most famous warship in our history.
Kim also took me to Cambridge, where we stood in Harvard Yard, and across the road in Cambridge Common stands a tree. It represents the famous Washington Elm, where legend has it General George Washington mustered the very first recruits into the Continental Army on July 3rd, 1775. Although the original tree died in 1923, and many historians dispute the story, it’s still pretty amazing to be standing on the spot where our first soldiers may have gathered to listen to General Washington. Less than three weeks earlier, on June 14th, 1775, the Continental Congress had voted to raise ten companies of riflemen. This was the beginning of the United States Army.
That event is commemorated on one of the five plaques we see at the back of our display here at the park. I hope you’ve had occasion to take a few minutes and look them over. If you haven’t, please take some time today. Each one tells of the beginning of a branch of our armed forces. It displays the symbol of that branch, and its motto, written in Latin and English. For the Army, the motto is Afti emeis thelisi proaspizo, which means, “This we will defend.”
When I first saw that plaque, I thought back to that day in Cambridge when I stood under that tree. If that event really happened, and doubtless something like it did happen, there or elsewhere, think of what was going through the minds of those men. They were not yet Americans, but subjects of the British Crown. They were farmers and shopkeepers, maybe a few teachers and students from Harvard. They probably ranged in age from mid-teens to late forties. And here was this tall, distinguished man from Virginia, encouraging them to volunteer to go into battle against the mightiest army in the world.
They could have said, “No, thanks,” and probably some of them did. But enough of them said yes. Maybe some of them had already had a taste of combat, in the battles of Lexington and Concord less than three months before, or atop Breed’s and Bunker Hills just three weeks before. Kim and I had stood atop Breed’s Hill, and I was surprised by how small it was. About 1200 colonial militia were dug in, and they held off over 3000 British regulars for hours before retreating in the face of the third enemy charge. It was a tactical victory for the British, but a strategic defeat. They had suffered over a thousand casualties, more than double the colonial total, and word quickly spread throughout the colonies that American militia could stand against British regulars.
“This we will defend.” Those men who fought at Lexington and Concord, atop Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, and those who joined Washington’s new army, made the decision to defend their homes and their families against a government they considered to be no less than a tyrancy. They fought for six years until the British finally gave up and went home.
That summer of 1775 was a busy time for the Continental Congress as it met in Philadelphia. Maybe some of you have read about these men in history books, or saw the TV miniseries John Adams. These men were some of the most distinguished citizens of the 13 colonies.
They were lawyers and businessmen, farmers and educators. Among them were some of the greatest men in American history: George Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin. Each and every one of them knew that if their cause failed, they would swing at the end of a British rope. But they made the decision: “This we will defend.”
Four months after creating the Army, the Congress authorized the creation of the Continental Navy. Do you know how many ships the Navy had by the end of 1775? Six. Britain’s Royal Navy had 468. And yet, the fledgling American Navy was able to harass British ships at sea, doing just enough to prevent the easy transportation of supplies and reinforcements across the Atlantic. Ultimately, thanks in large part to our French allies, our revolution was successful.
After the Revolution, there was a lot of support for disbanding the Army. A large standing army was thought not to be necessary, that local militia could handle any trouble on land. But on the sea, it was a different story. There was never any talk about doing away with the Navy. Keeping the Navy, making it strong, was the goal right from the beginning. George Washington said, “It follows as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”
The Navy was created by Congress on October 13, 1775. The Navy’s motto is Non sibi sed patriae, which means, “Not for self, but country.”
You Navy veterans here today have a good idea what that means. When you board a ship and set sail, you may not see your family again for months. If you served on a submarine, it might be weeks before you even see the sky. Last fall, a CNN crew spent a few days on board the USS Missouri, a nuclear attack submarine. It’s 337 feet long with a crew of 135. There are only 94 bunks on board, so many of the crew have to do what is called “hot-racking,” sharing bunks in shifts.
On a typical 183-day deployment, the Missouri and its sister attack subs spend all but 18 days underwater. And every moment on board is a moment where an alert could reach the captain and he gives an order. A gong sounds over the PA, followed by, “General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations!” Maybe the boat is preparing to launch cruise missiles against targets on land. Maybe they are going into action against an enemy ship that looks as if it’s going to launch a nuclear missile toward an American city. And on that sub, each and every man and woman now has an important job to do, and it’s a critical job, from the captain on down the ranks. The survival of the boat, and perhaps the survival of the nation, depend on it. Every one of those 135 men and women are working together, under intense pressure. In those critical minutes, nobody cares where you came from, what your skin color is, what your religious faith might be, whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s the mission that counts. Our nation must be defended.
“Not for self, but country.”
A month after the founding of the Navy, the Continental Congress decided that the new Navy needed some riflemen to board enemy ships at sea and assault the enemy on land. They passed a resolution calling for “two Battalions of Marines be raised.” This was the birth of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines made their first amphibious landing on March 3, 1776, on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, as part of an operation against the British colonial port of Nassau.
The Marines were disbanded after the war, but reinstated in 1798, because war was coming with a group of Islamic states on the northern coast of Africa known as the Barbary states. In 1805, 29-year-old Marine lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a small group of Marines ashore in Egypt. They helped assemble a mercenary army and marched 500 miles westward across the desert. It took them 50 days to reach the city of Derne in what is now Libya. On April 27, the Marines led the assault on the Barbary city and they overran the defenders, capturing the city and its fortifications. This was the first time United States military forces had engaged in action on the soil of another continent.
Several weeks later, O’Bannon’s Marines and the mercenaries began marching west toward Tripoli itself, but a peace treaty was signed on June 10. No doubt the pasha of Tripoli had heard that the Marines were on the way.
Legend has it that a Mameluke sword was presented to Lt. O’Bannon by the Ottoman Empire’s viceroy, Prince Hamet, on December 8, 1805, in recognition of the Marines’ courage and effectiveness during the battle of Derne. Twenty years later, the Commandant of the Corps adopted the Mameluke sword for wear by Marine officers, a tradition that continues to this day.
The Marine Corps’ motto is Semper fidelis, “Always faithful.” It was adopted by the Corps in 1883 on the initiative of Col. Charles McCawley, the 8th Commandant of the Corps. It signifies the dedication and loyalty that individual Marines have for Corps and country, even after leaving the service. As every Marine knows, there is no such thing as a former Marine. Semper fi!
The nation was still young in 1790 when Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, requested that Congress create the Revenue Marine, a seagoing service designed to collect customs duties in the nation’s seaports. Eventually the service was renamed the US Revenue Cutter Service, and when it merged with the Lifesaving Service in 1916, the United States Coast Guard got its current name. Its motto is Semper paratus, “Always ready.”
The Coast Guard doesn’t get nearly the publicity that the Navy does, but it’s a service that is vital to our nation’s security. In World War II the Coast Guard was essential to the security of American ports and our coasts. In fact, the Coast Guard was the first American military branch to come in contact with the enemy, and it happened two months before Pearl Harbor. On September 12, 1941, the cutter Northland intercepted a Norwegian fishing trawler off the east coast of Greenland, which had been designated as part of our North American defensive sphere by President Roosevelt.
Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany at the time. The fishing trawler wasn’t there to fish; it was there to send German commandos ashore to set up a radio station to guide U-boats. The skipper of the Northland, Commander Carl Christian von Paulsen, sent a boarding party to capture the trawler and then that night another party of Coast Guardsmen went ashore and captured the Germans.
The Coast Guard has a formal code of values and an ethos that every member is challenged to live by. An ethos is defined as, “The characteristic spirit of a culture, era or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” Here is the Coast Guard ethos:
I am a Coast Guardsman. I serve the people of the United States. I will protect them. I will defend them. I will save them. I am their shield. For them I am semper paratus. I live the Coast Guard core values. I am proud to be a Coast Guardsman. We are the United States Coast Guard.
The newest branch of the armed forces is the Air Force, founded on September 18, 1947. But US military aviation goes back 40 years before that. On August 1, 1907, just five years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight, the US Army Signal Corps created its Aeronautical Division. The Army purchased its first aircraft, a Wright Model A, two years later. Thirty-six years after that, in the final year of World War II, the Army Air Forces had over 80,000 aircraft and over 2 million men and women in uniform.
There were more than a few among those 2 million who distinguished themselves in combat in the skies over Africa, Europe and the Pacific. Our top fighter ace was Richard Bong, who was born in Superior in 1920, the son of Swedish immigrants. He grew up on a farm near Poplar. He took flying lessons while studying at what would become UW-Superior and entered the service 77 years ago tomorrow. He shot down his first two Japanese planes on December 27, 1942. By the end of 1944, he had shot down 38 more. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by General MacArthur. On August 6, 1945, the same day a B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Major Bong died when the P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter he was testing crashed in California.
Perhaps the war’s most famous bomber pilot was a tall fellow from Pennsylvania in his mid-30s by the name of James Stewart. He enlisted in March 1941, after packing on five pounds to meet the Army’s minimum weight requirement of 143. He was commissioned on New Year’s Day 1942. He appeared in a recruiting film, wearing his bomber jacket, and that film is credited with inspiring 150,000 men to join up. He flew 20 combat missions over Europe, often as command pilot of his group. He was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He stayed in the Reserves after the war and retired as a brigadier general. Jimmy Stewart’s first film after the war was It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, and you may have noticed the emotional intensity displayed by Stewart in several scenes. That’s not just because he was great actor; he also suffered from PTSD.
The Air Force motto is Uno ab alto, “One over all.” Nobody can dispute the fact that today, the United States Air Force is the most powerful air force in the world.
Americans have distinguished themselves in uniform for over 200 years. On the land, on and under the sea, in the air and in outer space, the men and women who have answered our country’s call have always been there for us. They were there in 1776, when a new and unique nation was born. In 1861, when a call went out to save that Union and free a race held in bondage. In 1898, when an island people 90 miles away begged for our help to overthrow their oppressors.
Calls went out in 1917 and 1941 and 1950 and 1965, when oppressed peoples in Europe and Asia and the Pacific needed our help. And it’s happened in more recent times: 1984 in Grenada, 1989 in Panama, 1991 in Kuwait, 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq.
And during all of those calls for help, American women have responded, too. At first they were nurses, clerks, typists, truck drivers. But when given the chance, they started flying aircraft, commanding ships, and leading troops on the ground. One of those pilots was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lori Hill.
In March 2006 in Iraq, CWO3 Hill was at the controls of her Kiowa Warrior helicopter when she and her co-pilot were tasked to assist a ground unit in contact with the enemy. Hill didn’t hesitate, flying her aircraft into the teeth of the enemy’s fire, as she countered with suppressing fire of her own. She said she could hear bullets pinging off the skin of her chopper. One round knocked out the aircraft’s hydraulics. Another round came into the cockpit, through her boot and up into her ankle. In great pain, she struggled to land the crippled Kiowa, and she was successful. For her actions that day, she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. A year later she retired after 20 years in the service.
Nearly 200 American women have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Women like Lori Hill have been volunteering to defend their country since the Revolution. In World War II, over 350,000 American women served. An unknown Army nurse from that era wrote this: “Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was just as great as the brave men who stood among us. And with victory our hearts were just as full and beat just as fast — that the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind.” These words live on as part of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
One of those women was 24-year-old Ellen Ainsworth from Glenwood City, only a few miles from here. She joined the Army and became a nurse. On February 10, 1944, she was on duty in a hospital ward near the beachhead at Anzio, Italy. During a German artillery bombardment, a shell hit the hospital, causing severe damage. Despite her wounds, this young woman calmly moved her patients to safety. According to an Army report, “By her disregard for her own safety and her calm assurance she instilled confidence in her assistants and her patients, thereby preventing serious panic and injury. Her courage under fire and her selfless devotion to duty were an inspiration to all who witnessed her actions.” She was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Today, a nursing care building at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King is named in her honor.
“This we will defend.“
I can think of no more fitting motto for the United States Army. Each and every man and woman who joins up knows that he or she may very well be called upon to defend our country. Each and every one of us, whether we are in uniform or not, has to make that decision, too. What will we defend? What will we stand for? What are we willing to die for? I want you to take a moment to look around you now. Maybe at your child or grandchild, your wife or husband, your neighbor. There are people here today whom you have not yet met, but they are very much like you. These, we will defend. This land we gather on today, next to this lake. This town, this state, this nation. This is what we have. This, we will defend. It has taken us more than two centuries to build it. It’s not perfect, but we’re not done with it yet. And from the beginning, we have chosen to defend it against those who would take all this from us, and to help those around the world fighting for their freedom, for they are our neighbors, too.
President Kennedy said it best: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
My fellow Americans, those stirring words were said more than half a century ago, but they mean just as much today as they did then, and as they did in the years before, all the way back to that summer day when George Washington spoke to his very first recruits. “This we will defend.” The men and women we honor here today understood that. I think we all understand that, too. They met the challenge, and answered their country’s call. They all said, “This we will defend.” Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. Over 1,350,000 Americans have paid that price, beginning with the 49 who fell at Lexington and Concord. If every one of them was here now, and took just one minute to walk down here in front of us and tell us their name, hometown and where they fell, it would take nearly a thousand days to hear them all.
As Americans today, our challenge is to decide for ourselves, what we will defend. As we leave here today, I would like each and every one of you who has not served, to ask yourself these questions: What will I defend? What will I stand for? How can I help assure the survival and success of liberty?
I would like all of you to take a look at the flags we fly here today. Old Glory is prominent among them. If that flag could talk, what would it say to us? Perhaps something like this:
I fly here today to honor my children who have fallen in my defense. For more than 200 years I have proudly flown for you. Wherever I go, people see me and think of the land where I was born. The first of my children flew me at Valley Forge and Yorktown. My Marines carried me to the halls of Montezuma and the shores of Tripoli. I was at Antietam and Gettysburg as my children in blue fought to bring home my children in gray, and to bring freedom to my children with dark skin. My Rough Riders carried me atop a hill to bring freedom to those in another land. My soldiers carried me through Flanders fields and across the beaches of Normandy to bring liberty to my friends across the sea. My sailors carried me across the Pacific. My Coast Guardsmen fly me as they protect my shores. My airmen carried me through the skies over Asia. My astronauts planted me in the soil of another world.
I have protected the caskets of over a million of my fallen sons and daughters. With each one, I wept. But each generation of my children carries me still, to protect what we have built together, and to bring hope and freedom to our friends around the world.
I care not what you look like or where you or your ancestors came from. You are all my children. And all I ask from you is that you live up to my ideals. That you work every day to build a better land for me to fly over. That you bring honor and integrity to everything you do. That you look at me and say, “This we will defend.”
Thank you, may God bless you, and may God bless these United States of America.