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We commemorate Memorial Day

May 30, 2016

By Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin

Seven score and 10 years ago, Waterloo, New York, held what is considered to be the first Memorial Day observation. And what began as a day to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War Soldiers has grown into an occasion to solemnly remember those whose lives were lost in combat serving in our nation’s conflicts.


Originally called Decoration Day, the observance was first held on May 30 in Northern states, as that was not the anniversary of a Civil War battle. Southern states honored their Civil War dead on different days until after World War I, when the nation expanded the tradition to commemorate all American service members who perished in the nation’s wars.


Congress established that Memorial Day would be held the last Monday of May back in 1971, when the observance also became a federal holiday.


The Civil War and World War I stand as bookends, of sorts, for Memorial Day, and Wisconsin was an active participant in both conflicts.


Wisconsin would send more than 90,000 volunteers to fight in the Civil War, on battlefields in places like Shiloh and Antietam, Bull Run and Gettysburg. Many of those volunteers fought their way into the history books in units such as the Iron Brigade of the West, and the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment with its bald eagle mascot, Old Abe. The 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment included a 17-year-old officer named Arthur MacArthur, a Medal of Honor recipient who inspired his regiment by planting the unit colors atop Missionary Ridge and shouting “On Wisconsin!”


It would be at Camp MacArthur near Waco, Texas, a little more than a half-century later, that the Wisconsin National Guard and Michigan National Guard would form the 32nd Infantry Division. Some Wisconsin National Guard units carried the lineage of heroic Civil War regiments into the fighting in Europe — and it would appear that they also carried the courage and determination of their Civil War forebears.


The 32nd Division was the first American unit to conduct armed patrols in Germany during World War I, and earned the nickname “Les Terribles” — meaning terrifying or formidable — from the French. The 32nd also earned another nickname, the Red Arrow, during World War I because it pierced every enemy line it encountered. In the final month of “the war to end all wars,” the 32nd Division was the first Allied Army unit to break through the Hindenberg Line and advance to the Meuse River. The Red Arrows were still fighting the Germans when the Armistice of Compiegne was signed on Nov. 11, 1918.


MemorialDay2016Approximately 12,000 Wisconsin Soldiers lost their lives in the Civil War, and roughly 2,250 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers would perish in World War I. Since Sept. 11, 2001, 10 Wisconsin Army National Guard members have lost their lives in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. I think about them every day, as well as the thousands of other Americans who gave their lives to preserve and protect our nation.


The Declaration of Independence holds that liberty is an inalienable right endowed by our Creator, but liberty endures in large part because throughout the history of our nation, brave men and women have stood up against those who would steal or infringe on that right.


That is why we do not celebrate Memorial Day — we commemorate it. As our nation grows, fewer and fewer of us put on the military uniform. The burden of defending our nation is borne by fewer and fewer Americans. And while we should absolutely continue to enjoy those liberties available to us in the United States, we should also honor those who cannot be here to share those liberties with us, and remember the families for whom Memorial Day will never be a celebration.

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Armed Forces Day 2016: A proud partner in defense of our state and nation

May 21,. 2016

By the Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Officearmed-forces-day-celebration-40

President Harry S. Truman was the driving force to establish a single holiday for a grateful nation to thank its men and women in uniform. And 66 years ago the United States observed its first Armed Services Day, only a few years after all the armed services were brought together under the Department of Defense.

While it is right and proper to recognize the sacrifice and commitment of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, it is also good to remember that serving in the armed forces is a privilege and an honor.

Not everyone has been willing to serve in uniform, and not everyone who was willing succeeded. Even the jobs that seemingly place the service member the greatest distance from combat still require a high degree of discipline, professionalism and commitment. It takes a combination of patriotism, selfless service, courage and dedication along with fitness and skill to wear the uniform. In short, only a select few — our nation’s best — can serve in the military.

Those who did serve and who are serving have learned that what they get out of military service is often determined by what they put into it. There is something to be said for being part of something larger than oneself, for putting the interest of a nation ahead of personal comfort or safety. And for many, the pride of serving the nation lasts long after the uniform was put away for the last time.

The American profession of arms predates the birth of our nation. If you consider the colonial militias, from which the Continental Army was initially formed, American military service dates back to 1636. The National Guard is a proud part of that legacy as it traces its lineage back to those early militias, pre-dating the formation of our country and the rest of the Armed Forces. The Continental Congress authorized an Army, Navy and Marine Corps in 1775 before it was determined that only a declaration of independence would secure the people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The earliest Citizen Soldiers and minutemen guaranteed the safety of their communities, just as today, our National Guard serves a dual-role for our state and nation.

As the first military responder in the homeland, the National Guard continues the legacy of those early militias as it stands ready to serve the citizens of our local communities in times of emergency. And just as in 1775, when colonial militias fired the “shot heard ‘round the world,” or in 1942 when Guardsmen from across our nation answered the call to serve in the Second World War, the National Guard simultaneously serves as the primary combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force.

Never has that been more apparent than in the years since 9/11, when the National Guard has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our brethren from the rest of the Armed Forces, deploying tens of thousands of Soldiers and Airmen to foreign lands to protect our nation.

We’re a proud partner in defense of our nation, and we’ll continue to be “Always Ready, Always There,” for both our state and our nation.