Cantigny. It sounds like the name of a fine French wine, not that I would know the name of a fine French wine. It’s not. Cantigny is a village in France and was the location of the first battle that pitted the American Expeditionary Force against the Germans in World War I on May 28, 1918. The Americans were joined by several French units. They were able to capture the village after a two-day battle. American losses were 1603 casualties with 199 killed in action. The American victory was significant because it assured the French that they could be counted on to help them defend Paris. A monument honoring the soldiers of the First Division still stands in the village of Cantigny today.

Fast forward 26 years. A place called the Hurtgen Forest. It sounds so tranquil and relaxing, conjuring up images of Harry Potter and his Forest of Dean. Hardly. A better comparison might be to Dante’s Inferno. The Hurtgen Forest was a mountainous, heavily wooded area along the Belgian-German border. The battle of the Hurtgen Forest was fought between the Allies and the Germans from September 19 – December 16, 1944. It was the longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought. Casualty estimates for the U.S. First Army go as high as 55,000 killed or wounded.  Why have most people never heard of it? The Germans launched their counter-offensive on December 16. It began the Battle of the Bulge.

Fast forward once more to May, 1969, in South Vietnam close to the Laotian border, a place known as Hill 937 on official U.S. Army maps.  Sounds harmless. Not so. It was called Hill 937 because it was 937 meters above sea level. Its real name was Ap Bia Mountain. The soldiers who fought there called it Hamburger Hill. American units involved included the 101st Airborne Division. It took 10 days to take the hill, at a loss of 72 killed and 372 wounded. Because it had no strategic value the hill was abandoned 15 days after the soldiers took it, in retrospect one of the most controversial battles of the war.  

When President Woodrow Wilson gave his declaration of war speech on April 7, 1917, he described the war as “the war to end all wars.” It wasn’t original with him. H. G. Wells first coined it in August, 1914, almost 4 years before the United States entered the war. Doesn’t matter.  Neither person was a prophet. Just ask every veteran of every war/conflict since then. The armistice to end World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. We have celebrated Armistice Day/Veterans Day  ever since.

The point of this article is not a history lesson, although many of us could use one. It is about honoring our veterans. It is Veterans Day, 2018, 100 years after the “war to end all wars.” Since that conflict we have had World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the War in the Middle East and numerous conflicts scattered across the globe. In every case our armed forces were there. They weren’t always big important history-making battles. Many of them, like Hamburger Hill, were questionable as to the value . . . but in each battle soldiers still fought and their friends still died. They still do.

For those veterans  living today and those  serving around the world we honor you. We celebrate the freedoms we have today because of your service. You are a special breed. Words seem so inadequate but I sit here today and sleep comfortably at night because of you. I am one thankful American.

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