June 8, 2017
As the United States tried to stay out of World War I, Germany was bound and determined to conquer the world. After three years of fighting, the Allied Powers, led by Great Britain and France, were struggling in their war efforts. This only emboldened Germany, whose arrogance and aggressiveness eventually led them to cause the one thing they didn't want, an American entrance into the war.
General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing and his men were barely home from their Punitive Expedition in Mexico, chasing Pancho Villa, when President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. (see The Day America's Neutrality Sank). Wilson promised the Allies he would immediately send a division to France. Problem was, America didn't have one. What she did have was infantry and artillery regiments on the Mexican boarder as well as soldiers returning from the chase. Of those, four infantry and three artillery units were sent to Hoboken, New Jersey, for immediate deployment to France.
Over 28,000 men were assigned to the first Regular Army division, which included your grandfather in the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, 1st Division. (see A Hero's Story). Originally designated the "First Expeditionary Division," the unit was officially organized on June 8, 1917, and placed under the command of Brigadier General William Sibert. However, the command of the entire American Expeditionary Forces was given to General Pershing. (see The Forgotten General)
On June 14th, ships left New Jersey and New York for Europe, arriving in France on the 28th to cheers and waving American flags. Pershing's aide, Colonel Charles E. Stanton, marched the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, through Paris on July 4th, 1917, to raise the spirits of the war-weary French. According to Pershing, Stanton then said a few words at Marquis de Lafayette's tomb:
"What we have of blood and treasure are yours...In the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying the war to a successful conclusion." He concluded, "Lafayette, we are here!"
(Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing (1977), vol. II, 724 by Frank E. Vandiver)
During the American Revolution, Lafayette was a key patriot supporter and played a vital role in America's victory for independence. Stanton's remark was a nod to Lafayette's important involvement and a promise to France that America was there to repay that debt.
Two days later, the "First Expeditionary Division" was re-designated the "First Infantry Division." Members wore a patch on their shoulder of a red number 1, earning them the nickname the "Big Red One," or BRO. They were also referred to as "The Fighting First," as well as Doughboys.
The 1st Infantry Division shot the first artillery against the Germans and won several key campaigns, including America's first victory in the war. As they were the only regular army division at the beginning of the U.S.'s involvement, they were also the first American's to see battle.
The "Big Red One" has fought in every American war since its inception, with only one exception, the Korean War, usually as the first deployed division to the conflict. In addition, they are not only the first permanent regular army division, they are the oldest continuously serving army division.
Today marks the 100th Anniversary of this historical division. They have a long and proud history and always fulfilled their motto of, "No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great - Duty First!" What is even more wonderful, Liberty, is you personally share in their history as your Great-Grandpa R bravely fought in the Big Red One. It is so important that we never let the stories and the experiences of those who fought so valiantly for this country be erased from our history books or our memories. Instead, they should be reminding us of the humble, and selfless individuals who sacrificed themselves so that you, your children and your grandchild, can live in a free country. It is what your great-grandfather would have wanted.
That’s my 2 cents.