Thursday marks the 232nd birthday of the Army, our oldest military branch. Established by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775 (About.com), the Army’s storied history is filled with tales of great feats in battle, victories against brutal regimes, and – especially in recent years – stunningly quick conquests over entrenched foes.
But the Army is more than that. It is tradition. It is duty, and honor, and country, each word functioning as a supporting pillar for the other two. Any country can produce an Army, given enough manpower and money. Only this country, however, can produce the American soldier, who holds a unique place in the history of man. This Army doesn’t fight for conquest. This Army fights to free those living under conquest. A great Army man, Gen. Colin Powell once said, “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”
When I think of a soldier, I think of the Continental soldier, steadfastly standing by George Washington in the darkest days of the revolution. When the melody of the Star Spangled Banner floats through the air, I think of the determined stand at Fort McHenry and how the Army’s perserverence inspired a nation. I marvel at the desperate “no quarter” struggle at Little Round Top, and the equally desperate assault by Confederate forces the next day under General Pickett. Or the Rainbow Division in World War I, or the friendly, ferocious, gum-chewing foot soldiers of World War II. I have a deep appreciation for those who fought in Korea and Vietnam, performing valiently in spite of political turmoil back home.
But mostly, when I think of the Army, I think of the Army today. Today’s Army has the muscle to win a war with brutal efficiency one day, and the maturity to lend a constructive hand the next.
The average age of American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan is around 19 years old, give or take, with the eyes of the world upon them. These young soldiers excel in the white hot arena of Iraq and Afghanistan because they all share the same American bloodline. They are descendants of their Army forefathers – at Valley Forge, at Baltimore, at Gettysburg, at the Marne River, at Normandy, at Pusan, at Drang Valley.
Their history is still being written, but they have already ensured their shared legacy. To the rest of the world they are the manifestation of American character and spirit. To us, they are all we wish we could be. Happy birthday, Army. You are our heroes of the week.