America has always been defended by citizen soldiers
Some were professionals charged with the vocation of national defense, but most were soldiers of a different calling, one of domestic tranquility and social productivity. In times of national emergencies, the professional and the amateur joined forces in courage and diligence until the issues were settled. In this essay, I honor them all: the professional who is also a citizen and the citizen who is also, for a time, a soldier.
From the Beginning
He shivered in the snow at Valley Forge with Washington and made a stand in the Louisiana swamps with Jackson and a nation was finally free from the British Crown.
He dressed in gray to defend his invaded homeland. He also donned blue to defend the Union. 600,000 of them died to make a divided nation one again and to free it from the wicked chains of human bondage.
World War I
By 1918, it was no longer possible for him to stay on the farm or in the shop or in the factory. Europe was bogged in a muddy, bloody war. So, the farmer, the merchant, the skilled worker became the dough-boy. America called and the citizen soldier answered. Some sailed iron ships on and beneath the surging sea. Some soared in wire and cloth flying machines, but most marched in the mud, crouched in bomb proofs and trenches for endless barrages trying desperately not to breathe as mustard gas poisoned the air. Soon, the citizen soldier weighted the balances of war and an armistice was signed.
World War II
But in the armistice were the seeds of the next war. By the 1930s Germany was rebuilding her might and so was Japan. American interests were global now. Conflict in Europe and Asia reached into the homes, fields, streets and boulevards of the country vistas, small towns and cities of America. Even before war was declared the citizen soldier flew with Flying Tigers in China and the Eagle Squadron in the Battle of Britain. He sailed with the Merchant Marine and braved the wolf-packs and raiders of Nazi Germany to deliver supplies to an England standing alone.
When war finally came to America, the nation called again, and these dough-boy’s sons answered. With so many professionals lost at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines, the citizen soldier, sailor, and airman came from across the width and breadth of America. This time the ships and planes were better, but the European mud was the same, and dense, south sea jungles awaited him.
He built a bridge of ships and sailed them across the Atlantic. He launched and flew the planes that turned the tide at Midway. He captured and held Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. He invaded North Africa, learning as he went how to make war. He sailed the vast expanses of the Pacific and conquered island after island on a march toward Japan. He flew from airfields in England to pound the enemy day after day, while his Fortresses and Liberators and Marauders went unprotected into the fray. Sicily, then Italy, felt his footstep. Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” proved insufficient to keep him out.
The fields and factories of a free land fed and equipped him to make war around the globe and he did. Finally, names like Omaha Beach, the Philippine Sea, and Iwo Jima brought to us the news of bloody victory after victory. The citizen soldier was master of the air, the seas, and the land, and tyranny was beaten back.
In five short years conflict in Korea called on him to lay aside any other plans he may have made and travel more than halfway around the world to fight the communists to a stand still. In something called “Cold War” he manned the subs and silos, the check points and flight lines of freedom.
Viet Nam called 60,000 of them from this earth and thousands more to the rim of hell. Within a generation, communism in Europe fell and the walls around the world began to crumble.
In this century, the reservist has joined the professional soldier. Together, the professional and the citizen soldier have degraded the ability of tyrants to make war or fascists to destroy nations. They and the grace of God stand between us and the terrorists.
Ask the Filipino or the Belgian, the Korean or man from Kuwait, and he will tell you of an American who will leave his own safe surroundings and fight for another man’s freedom. The world owes so much to these citizen soldiers.
© 2019 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved