This past summer marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One – the supposed “War to end all wars.” Nine million Soldiers from the warring nations would die in that war – with countless more civilian casualties.
The U.S. military paid dearly on the battlefields of Europe in that conflict as it suffered more than 320,000 casualties in just over one year of fighting.
Wisconsin sent more than 122,000 of its native sons and daughters to the First World War, and nearly 4,000 made the ultimate sacrifice.
In the wake of the carnage of the Great War, the world would mark the first Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, in the hope that the day would serve as a reminder of the costs of war.
No veterans of the First World War remain with us today, but their spirit and their legacy survives.
Within our own Wisconsin National Guard, the famed Red Arrow, which earned its moniker by piercing enemy lines as the 32nd Division in France during World War I, lives on in the form of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. A new generation of Red Arrow veterans was born in the years following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. They, along with more than 11,500 fellow Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard would deploy to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those Guardsmen made up almost one-third of the more than 34,000 Wisconsinites who served and continued to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of Wisconsinites, including four units currently deployed from the Wisconsin Army National Guard, remain overseas right now.
This new generation of veterans is the latest in a long and proud tradition of Wisconsin military service that dates back all the way to our earliest days of statehood.
During the American Civil War, some 91,000 Wisconsinites, which accounted for 11 percent of the state’s population at the time, served in the War Between the States. Another 5,000 would serve in the Spanish-American War, while more than 4,000 – many from the Wisconsin National Guard, served along the Mexican border in the years preceding World War I.
In World War II, the 32nd Division once again fought its way through the South Pacific in New Guinea and the Philippines, while spending more days in combat than any other American division. Ultimately, some 332,000 Wisconsinites earned the right to be called a veteran as the American military waged war in the Pacific and Europe simultaneously.
More than 132,000 served in Korea – some with the newly formed Wisconsin Air National Guard in the skies above the Korean Peninsula, and another 165,000 would serve in Vietnam. A decade before the 9/11 attacks, another generation of Wisconsin veterans formed as 10,000 would deploy to the Persian Gulf War.
More than 900,000 of Wisconsin’s finest men and women have gone to war the state’s storied history of military service.
As the adjutant general of Wisconsin, I’m especially proud of the role played by the men and women of the National Guard defending American since our nation’s earliest origins. The National Guard traces its lineage all the way back to 1636, when colonial militias protected their citizens.
Those early militiamen were farmers, tradesmen and shipbuilders – among other occupations – that dropped their plows and tools and picked up their rifles to guarantee the freedom upon which this nation was founded.
Today, I see that same spirit in our veterans and National Guard Soldiers and Airmen. Like their forefathers, they too live civilian lives until their nation or their state calls upon them to serve. Whether they hold jobs or attend school, our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen are always ready to answer the call.
Our veterans represent less than one percent of our nation’s population. That one percent has shouldered the load for an entire nation of freedom-loving people. And by bearing that heavy burden, the American combat veteran has secured for us – peace prosperity, security, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness for us and future generations of Americans.
On this Veterans Day, I ask that you remember that it was the veteran ducking machine gun fire in a trench, freezing in a foxhole at Bastogne or sweating through the jungles of Vietnam that won the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy as Americans today. It was the veteran patrolling in the blindness of a sandstorm or shivering at Valley Forge who fought to secure our birthright as a free and independent people.