117th and the 116th


I received a copy of a news article today from a World War I historian in Kansas. It was dated May 13, 1919. It told the story of the homecoming of the 117th Ammunition Train, part of the legendary Rainbow Division, to Rosedale, Kansas for demobilization. My grandfather and his three brothers all went to war with the 117th, saw action in Champagne, St. Mihiel, Verdun and the Argonne, as well as several other minor battles; and all four returned home unharmed.

The 117th was a National Guard unit. It was the first to deploy to France, and the last to leave. A memorial still stands near Rainbow Boulevard in Rosedale (near Kansas City) as a tribute to the unit’s sacrifices and fighting spirit.

Tomorrow, Idaho will pay tribute to its own National Guard unit, the 116th Armored Cavalry Brigade, made up of men and women from all over Idaho and parts of Oregon and Montana. The 116th is about to begin its second deployment to Iraq in six years.

(Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman)

When they arrive in Iraq, everything will be different. Their roles will be different too. Instead of hunting down bad guys all over Kirkuk, they will be involved in training and support of the Iraqi military. And if schedules remain as written, they will be some of the last American troops to leave.

When National Guard units return home, they are demobilized and soon return to their “day jobs.” This is different from active components who come home as a unit and remain intact. For the active troops, re-acclimation is accomplished together, side by side with those who share similar experiences. For the Guardsmen, it is more individual and takes place in the civilian workplace, alongside people who have lived completely different lives while they were gone. Admittedly, the adjustment is a challenge.

My grandfather, like most of the WWII veterans I have met, never talked about his experiences. After the war he got a job in construction and got on with life. Whatever horrors he saw in Europe were sealed within his own memories. One has to wonder how the rapid assimilation back into society affected his willingness to tell his story.

Nevertheless, Guardsmen have been answering the clarion call for decades – even centuries – for their country. They have willingly left their peaceful civilian worlds behind and entered the chaotic theaters of war because their country needed them. To me, that is the definition of patriotism and duty.

To the National Guardsmen everywhere, I salute you for serving your states and your country. For the 116th, God’s speed. We pray you all return home quickly and safely.

You are our heroes of the week.


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