American Legion Post 370 will be holding their Veterans Day Ceremony today at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Plaza in front of the police station. After the ceremony, veterans can go to the Blue Bike restaurant for a free lunch with their spouses. This program is funded by Mike Bryson as a tribute to the people who have served our country in the military.
I want to pay tribute to the first GIs who set a lasting example of duty and service for this country. GI is an acronym for Government Issue. When one is in the US military, he or she are given uniforms, a place to sleep, food, and healthcare.
Military personnel are trained for specific tasks and are paid a modest salary. A person in the military is in fact government issue and an extension of the will and policies of the United States. They are under the total control of our government during their time of service.
Some of the first GIs were those brave patriots who fought and then wintered at Valley Forge with the great Washington. Of course, there are those idealized portraits of Washington and his soldiers at Valley Forge, but those images do not capture the hell on earth that they endured.
Bob Drury and Tom Calvin wrote the book simply called Valley Forge. The authors stress that the soldiers who encamped in the winter of 1788 were a rag tag collection of farmers and working-class laborers with hardly any military training.
The British had repeatedly defeated them the year before. Morale was low as they setup their makeshift encampments. British troops were quartered 60 miles away in Philadelphia enjoying the bounty of city life.
These GIs were issued hardly anything by the fledging American government. For barracks, the soldiers dug out rectangular spaces about three feet below ground and then built a roof of logs, twigs, mud, and anything else that they could find. Many of the soldiers were lacking shoes, clothing, and blankets.
For food, they ate mostly what was called fire cake, a mixture of meal, flour, and maggots. When they did get a ration of meat it was usually rancid. Many of the GIs at Valley Forge died of smallpox and other diseases, or from malnutrition and exposure to the elements.
We like to think of those images of pristine snow at Valley Forge, but that wasn’t the case. It was always cold. Troops were barraged by incessant heavy snows and then torrential rains that made the encampment a miserable mud pit.
Washington feared he would not even have an army by spring. But miraculously many men remained and survived. Supplies finally came to the encampment. A Prussian military officer, von Stuben, arrived. He taught the GIs in that spring how to be a fighting force that could do close-order drill and transformed them into multiple battle formations.
During the summer of 1789, Washington marched his newly trained Continental Army to Monmouth Court House where he led the GIs to engage a world class British infantry.
The Continentals didn’t win the battle that day, but they didn’t lose it either. The British were stunned that Washington had an army, a trained force of GIs. This first American military personnel set the standard that subsequent GIs have followed. A standard of duty, honor, and steadfastness.
What is amazing is that these veterans of the American Revolution left military service and became American citizens all replete with successes, failures, and ordinary lives. That is what veterans do. Take pause to think about them today.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor