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Advancing the spirit of independence

July 4, 2016

By Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general

Fireworks at the 2012 Rhythm and Booms festival in Madison, Wis., silhouette 105-mm Howitzers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Wisconsin National Guard file photo

Fireworks at the 2012 Rhythm and Booms festival in Madison, Wis., silhouette 105-mm Howitzers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Wisconsin National Guard file photo

Today we celebrate the 240th anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

On July 4, 1776, our nation’s founders shed the shackles of tyranny and boldly declared to the world that the United States of America was and of right, ought to be a free and independent nation.

Since that fateful day when our founding fathers bravely staked their names and reputations to a piece of paper that declared America an independent nation, America has shone as a beacon of hope and freedom to people around the world.

We are still that beacon today, and that spirit of 1776 lives on in the hearts and minds of every American.

But on the 4th of July I can’t help but reflect on who secured that American idea in the first place.

In his Concord Hymn, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flags to April’s breeze unfurled, here once the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard round the world.”

The scene Emerson was describing is that of American minuteman – embattled farmers, blacksmiths, merchants and others representing ordinary Americans from all walks of life – standing in opposition to an advancing British element in Concord, Massachusetts, April 19, 1775, when the first shots of the American Revolution rang out.

Those Citizen Soldiers were Massachusetts militiamen whose legacy lives on today in our National Guard. The colonial militias and their brethren from the Continental Army, which organized in June of 1775, enforced and secured the Declaration of Independence. Without their sacrifices through the blood and suffering of the Revolutionary War, the Declaration on July 4, 1776, would have been nothing more than words on paper.

The farmers that stood at Concord and others like them that joined the fight against Great Britain in the years that followed ensured that the fledgling American nation would survive and fend off the world’s greatest military power at the time.

Today, it is the United States of America that boasts the world’s greatest military might, and that’s in large part thanks to the service and professionalism of the men and women who wear the cloth of our nation’s uniform both in the active component & federal reserve, and in the primary combat reserve of our Army and Air Force – the National Guard.

240 years later, the United States remains the world’s greatest beacon of freedom and hope. We in the Wisconsin National Guard are proud to be a part of it, and we will remain always ready, and always there to ensure the spirit of 1776 lives on for generations to come.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy and healthy Independence Day. May God continue to bless America.

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241 years of Army service to our flag and nation

June 14, 2016Emblem_of_the_United_States_Department_of_the_Army_svg

By Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general

Today we celebrate the U.S. Army’s 241st birthday, as well as the 100th anniversary of Flag Day. In honor of both occasions, allow me to share a story about a Wisconsin man fitting for each observation.

The 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment was part of the Army of the Cumberland, which in September of 1863 survived the Battle of Chickamauga, considered the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the Civil War. The Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and endured a weeks-long siege by Confederate forces. The arrival of additional Union forces eased the siege and set the stage for the Battle of Missionary Ridge in late November.

The Army of the Cumberland’s task was to take the Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. However, confusion about the orders resulted in the Army of the Cumberland holding the low ground as the Confederates retreated to the top of the ridge, eventually concentrating rifle and artillery fire against their Union foes.

With the 24th Wisconsin for this battle was 18-year-old Lt. Arthur MacArthur, whose gallantry had already earned the respect of his older peers. As he and his men endured withering Confederate fire, the regimental color bearer was killed. Grabbing the flag and holding it over his head, MacArthur turned to his men and bellowed, “On Wisconsin!” before charging up Missionary Ridge. His men followed, and other Union units also charged the ridge rather than absorb continued Confederate fire. MacArthur reached the crest of Missionary Ridge and planted the regimental colors where they could be seen by all.

From a distance, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was shocked to observe Union troops advancing up Missionary Ridge, as no orders had been given for the Army of the Cumberland to mount such an assault. Nevertheless, Union Soldiers continued their ascent, dislodging the entrenched Confederates in what military historians consider the conflict’s most successful frontal assault against dug-in defenders holding the high ground.

Modern historians were not the only ones impressed. Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan learned of MacArthur’s actions later that night. Sheridan found the teenage lieutenant, embraced him and told the men of the 24th Wisconsin, “Take care of him — he has just won the Medal of Honor.”

MacArthur would eventually command the 24th Wisconsin, and 27 years later would finally receive the promised Medal of Honor. After the end of the Civil War, MacArthur joined the regular Army and continued an impressive military career that finally concluded at the rank of lieutenant general in 1909. One of his three sons was Douglas MacArthur, who would also receive a Medal of Honor and achieve the rank of General of the Army — a five-star general.

Three years later, in ill health, MacArthur was the keynote speaker at the 50th anniversary reunion for the 24th Wisconsin, held in Milwaukee. As he began to address the 90 or so surviving members of the regiment, he collapsed at the podium and died. He was covered with the tattered remains of the regimental colors he had so valiantly carried up Missionary Ridge nearly five decades earlier.

The flag represents our nation, the U.S. Army defends our nation, and on that day in 1863, Arthur MacArthur embodied the best characteristics of both our flag and the U.S. Army.