A Soldier At Rest
America has always had a complicated relationship with its military. When there is a need for a strong army, to defend and protect our way of life we celebrate and honor them.
Once the wars are over we tend to shove them out of sight and out of mind. It’s a pattern that has followed the soldiers of our country from the middle of the Revolution to this very day. Yet still, they serve. Without question. Without thought. They sacrifice their lives and families so that we can all go about our lives without fear.
Men like the one in the photo above.
His name is lost to history. The man who took the picture is gone and so is his memory of his fellow soldier. This was taken somewhere in Vietnam during that conflict.
The picture shows a man who is battle-worn and tired, exhausted from having not slept for who knows how long. Cans on the ground around him indicate a hastily eaten meal of c-rations, his head resting on the pack that carried everything that he currently owns.
The rest is well-earned, the enemy in this case never far away and constantly on his mind. Dreams of home the only defense against the horrors of war he faces on a daily basis.
Odds are if you ask him why they fight they won’t say for God and country. They won’t spout some great political treatise on Capitalism versus Communism. They will tell you they fight for the people at home. For the others who are just as tired and exhausted as they are.
We still field a mostly volunteer military. True, some don’t have a choice, but all make the decision to serve. Rember them tonight when you are safe and warm.
The gentleman in the picture above is one of the wonderful staff at Colonial Williamsburg. I did not catch his name but the “character” he played had an interesting evolution. He played his character at different points in time. Starting from when the trouble with Britain was beginning all the way to the end of the war. In this picture was a Continental soldier after the war trying to figure out was next for himself. Many like him thought they would have some sort of pension to lean on, here is part of that story.
First Pension Act
Pensions and land grants were two methods used to entice young men to join the Continental Army. As early as 1776 Congress passed the first of the pension laws which promised half-pay for a period of time to anyone that served in The Continental Army. With the caveat that the only men eligible were those that lost a limb or that were rendered unable to earn a living after the war. So a start.
In 1778 General Washington convinced Congress to amend that to include half-pay for 7 years to all officers that remained in the service until the end of the war. Enlisted men who stayed would be eligible for an $80 annuity after the war.
In 1780 Congress amended the act again to provide the half-pay for 7 years to the orphans and widows of Continental officers who died in service.
Later in 1780, it was amended again, once more at the insistence of Washington, to give officers half-pay for life.
After the near revolt of the officer corps at Newburgh, NY in March 1783, a new pension act was passed giving the officers full pay for 5 years payable in hard money or interest-bearing annuities. Officers could choose which they wanted
The pension laws would be changed another six times over the years. In 1828 Congress provided for full pay to surviving officers and enlisted men without any further requirement of disability or financial need. In 1832 they extended further, full pay for life for all officers and enlisted men who served at least 2 years in the Continental Line, the state troops or militia, the navy or marines. Men who served less than 2 years but at least 6 months were granted pensions of less than full pay.
100 Years and Still Tweaking
Fifty-six years after the start of the war everyone who fought was now eligible for a pension. The final actual pension legislation regarding the American Revolution was passed in 1878. This last one extended lifetime benefits to any widow whose husband served at least 14 days or participated in any engagement during the war.
The sad part is that many of the men and widows were never able to actually collect their pensions. That is a story for another time though.
Counting on the Continental Currency
On June 22, 1775, the Continental Congress issued the first Continental currency in the form of $2 million in bills of credit. At the time paper money was almost a rarity as most people preferred hard currency. Actual coins made of silver and gold. Unfortunately, there was not enough of the hard specie, as it was called, in the colonies to pay for the war.
The paper money was backed only by the promise of future tax revenues and fluctuated badly from the start. The value rising and falling based on the performance of the Continental Army against the British. It did not take long for the up and down to become simply a down as rampant inflation, lack of faith in the currency and the British penchant for counterfeiting (Read more about that here! Or in the hardcover annual here.) made the paper not even worth the paper it was printed on.
By 1781 the exchange rate was $225 to $1. ($225 in Continental currency for $1 of hard specie.) This was at a time when the average Continental Army private made $5 a month in Continental scrip. If they were paid at all. Most men had received little if any pay since 1778.
Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier from Connecticut, relays in his memoirs a story where to earn a little extra (having not been paid in many months) he assisted in a roundup of runaway slaves that had fled to the service of British after the siege at Yorktown in 1781 had ended. “… the fortune I acquired was small, only one dollar; I received what was then called its equivalent, in paper money, if money it might be called, it amounted to twelve hundred (nominal) dollars, all of which I afterwards paid for one single quart of rum; to such a miserable state had all paper stuff, called-money- depreciated.”
Twelve hundred dollars for a quart of rum, and we thought prices were high today. The struggle to pay for the war is an epic tale for another time. It almost came to pass that counting on currency was almost a disaster.
The Sound of Drums
Since the beginning of warfare leaders needed to be able to communicate with their troops from a distance. To get their commands heared through the din of battle. during the roar of battle. In many places in the world, the drum has always been one of the most favored methods of battlefield communication.
Drums would be used to men where to gather, and when to attack. When to leave the battlefield and when to curfew had fallen on the camp. From a distance, units could communicate with other to coordinate. Drums would also help the soldiers keep their pace when marching.
Since our military heritage is drawn mainly from European tradition, it is interesting to note that prior to the Crusades, drums were not used in European armies. In fact, when facing off against the forces of Islam, who made heavy use of large kettledrums to command the troops, they found that their horses reacted poorly to the noise to which they had never heard. Early battles were heavily affected by the enemies drums until they grew accustomed.
Returning armies worked the drums into their operations. By the time that the European powers came to the American continent, they found themselves up against indigenous people that had been using drums for communication for thousands of years.
Drums, bugles and other musical instruments found their way into the US military. They only started to fade from use during the Civil War when the telegraph began taking its place in the command and control realm. Eventually, the radio would provide the most direct communication method and the drums fell silent as a battlefield tool.
Few quotes actually do justice to the US Marine Corps and the one above that was offered up by General Oliver Smith during the Korean War is one that does in a nutshell.
By November 1950 the Chinese had been involved with the war in Korea for about a month. After a number of actions, it appeared that they may not be a match for the UN troops. Several initial battles led to Chinese defeats with high casualties around the area known as the Chosin Reservoir. Expecting a different result Chairman Mao Zedong personally called for the destruction of the UN troops. To achieve this he sent the 9th Army across the border into North Korea. UN intelligence never saw it coming.
On the night of November 27th, the Chinese 9th army completely surprised the US X Corps at the Chosin Reservoir and kicked off a terrible 17-day battle. The X Corps was made up of American, South Korean and British troops, about 30,000 strong. They were quickly surrounded by almost 120,000 Chinese soldiers hell-bent on their destruction.
General Smith, the commander of X Corps knew the only way out was through the Chinese lines. On December 6th Smith began the breakout with the 7th Marines in the lead and the 5th Marines bringing up the rear. When asked by a member of the press corps if the Marines were retreating Smith responded, “We are not retreating, we are just advancing in a different direction.” As happens with most historical quotes, time has changed it into the more familiar one seen above.
The running battle was the stuff of legend as the Marines did the impossible. Fighting through Chinese night attacks, ambushes, human wave attacks and even having to build a bridge from sections dropped by plane, the finally reached friendly territory on December 11th. When all was said and done the UN forces lost almost 13,000 men to the Chinese nearly 60,000. The Marines were a rock that the Chinese nearly broke on. It would it would be many months before the Chines would be able to continue offensive operations.
The War to End All Wars (WWI)
The medals in the picture above were given to participants in WWI. Given for heroics and valor, for bravery and performing above and beyond the call of duty. On April 6, 1917, the Great War on the European continent finally drew in the United States. On that day the US House of Representatives voted 373 to 50 to approve the Senates (82 to 6) declaration of war against Germany.
There were many that wanted us in the war since it began and many more that saw a war across the ocean as something that should stay there, but when American civilian lives were put at risk, and even lost thanks to German navy, it was not long before we would seek our retribution. The last straw, the straw that saw us turn toward war instead of away was not the sinking of the Lusitania, which may be the ship you are most familiar with, but the Houstanic.
Days later on February 22, 1917, Congress passed a $250 million appropriations bill to prepare us for war. By the time March had come and gone Germany had sunk four more US merchant ships and President Wilson called for war to be officially declared.
The Yankees Arrive
The first US troops landed in France on June 26, almost 14,000 total began their adventure Over There. About seventeen months later the war was finally over with more than 2 million Americans having joined in the fighting. Almost fifty thousand of them didn’t come home. Those that did came home to a country that had proven itself on the world stage as never before. As a military power and as a true industrial power.
The medals above were given for heroics and valor. For bravery and performing above and beyond the call of duty. They also served as proof to the world that America was poised to take its place on the world stage.
The Fighting Quaker
The Nathaniel Greene monument at Guilford Courthouse is just one that stands to memorialize the man who General Washington hand-picked as his successor in command of the army should he fall. And it was a good choice.
One of the first to answer the call to arms from Rhode Island, Greene served in a number of capacities during the war. He received his brigadier appointment from the Continental Congress on June 22, 1775. Greene was given command of Boston by Washington after the British withdrew.
In August 1776 he became one of four new major generals. At that point, he was given command of all troops on Long Island. He selected the location of fortifications and supervised their construction. During the British invasion, he was given command of Forts Washington and Lee only to lose them to the British onslaught. He would make up for it at the Battle of Trenton where he led one of two American columns into the fight.
After given command of the reserve at the Battle of Brandywine Washington pleaded for him to take over as Quartermaster General during the long winter at Valley Forge. He did so reluctantly but proved more than competent. He would lead the right wing of the army at Monmouth. Rhode Island was next along with Lafayette and the French.
Once he was in command of the army in the south Greene became an immortal. Somehow he did it without winning a single battle. He didn’t need to. Much like Washington he simply managed to keep fighting. Never allowing the British to rest. The eventual victory at Yorktown belongs to Greene as much as any man. None, however, can say it better than the enemy that he dueled within the Carolinas.
Green is as dangerous as Washington, I never feel secure when encamped in his neighborhood– General Charles Cornwallis
The Dominoes of 9/11
That is a section of steel I-Beam from the World Trade Center. Or what was left of it on that fateful day not long ago. There is no need to recap that day or the events. For many of us, it is forever seared into our memories as the world we knew was changed forever.
As terrible as that day was, what came after is almost as unbelievable. Our military entered a struggle that still continues almost seventeen years later. From Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria, to Africa and a dozen other places. The men and women of the armed forces have been fighting a war against people who are as determined to kills us today as they were back then. Their fighting spirit has not wavered, and neither has ours.
With the main event that launched into this war so far removed, it is easy for us to lose focus on the struggle ahead. Looking back through the other posts on this blog you can see that as Americans we have always stepped up and done what we have had to do. Looking at the rusted piece of metal in the picture above should remind us that the struggle is ongoing.
Of course for some that piece of metal above is a reminder that the underlying conflict that brought about the destruction of the towers has been going on for more than a thousand years. The story of civilization is the story of struggle. That picture should remind you what we are currently struggling for.
The USO on Tour
OK, I can not say for sure if what we are seeing is an actual USO show. I can tell you it is during the Vietnam War. There was in fact singing and dancing with a lot of people sitting there in a combat zone watching it. BUT we will call it a USO show so we can talk about that for a bit, eh?
The USO, United Service Organization is a non-profit that has been in existence since 1941. Their mission consists of providing services and live entertainment to troops and their families all over the world. In a way, during wartime, it becomes a home away from home for the US soldiers.
Disbanded after WWII it was reconstituted for the Korean War and has been going strong ever since. Regardless of political affiliations millions of people donate and hundreds of performers donate their time for this cause.
Currently, there are over 160 locations in 14 countries around the world and 27 states with over 8 million visitors in 2011.
For the troops in the field visits by some of the top names in Hollywood have always been welcomed. Among the top-tier was Bob Hope, who will always be the face of the program. In more recent times celebrities such as Jay Leno, Bruce Willis, Steve Martin Robin Williams, Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, and many, many more.
It is all about helping the men and women of the armed forces to understand that they are never forgotten and that their sacrifice and the burdens they bear and appreciated. Sometimes live music, warm food, and good company can help to take the sting out of a bad and serious deployment.
Then topic of Reconstruction after the Civil War is one that is usually either handled very heavy-handed, or simply glanced over. The fact is while the war part of the Civil War ended in 1865, the civil aspect of it is still being fought today. Yes, there is a school of thought that contends the Civil War has not yet ended. Luckily in this book, Langguth doe snot take that tact.
It is easy to say that this is one of the best books on Reconstruction out there. It covers the main characters from the just before Lincoln’s assassination and how the Federal government sought to bring the nation back together once the bullets stopped flying. It also though spends some time on the ground level with the people who were living the local aspects of the overall governments policies. The book even goes so far (almost) to tie the struggles of the African-American community during Reconstruction to the modern-day Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. As such I would consider this book a good jumping on point of the subject interests you.
There are a few things to watch for. There is a bit of a tendency to jump around in the time line based on which person the story is following in any given chapter. So it is not a directly linear read. It did throw me off a couple of times. The other thing, as I said it makes a good attempt at tying the post Civil War era to the more modern times, but in the last chapter when it tries to do so it seems almost like an epilogue that has been tacked on. Not a negative as it lead me to wanting to read more, but something to be aware of.
All in all worth the read. Click the image to visit Amazon and pick it up