One hundred years ago, an assassination in Europe in 1914 would lead the industrial nations of Europe in a war to end all wars.
With the sinking of the passenger ship The Lusitania, torpedoed by German U-Boats, and Americans on board—and later the sinking of Allied ships, including American supply ships—President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
America responded to the call.
Young men were called to duty. In Camp Gordon, Ga., an infantry division was established and formally activated, made up entirely of drafted soldiers from all 48 states. A contest by the citizens of Atlanta, and approval by Commanding General Maj. Gen. Eben Swift, he nicknamed the 82nd Infantry Division the “All-American Division.” The division was sent to France to join the American Expeditionary Forces.
Fighting at St. Mihiel and west of the Mossel River, despite suffering heavy losses, the division fought its way on the western front to the area of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. They were joined there by 1.2 million battle-ready soldiers of the United States, such as the 3rd Infantry Division.
Activated on November 21, 1917 at Camp Greene, N.C., the soldiers of the 3rd ID saw combat for the first time in France.
Engaged in the Aisne Marne Offensive, as part of the AEF, the division was protecting Paris from the German attacks. They held their position west of the Marne River, with other units retreating. The 3rd ID held their position steadfast in the second battle of the Marne, earning them the nickname “Rock of the Marne.” Soldiers who wore their white and blue insignia on their uniforms became known as the “Blue and White Devils.” During the heavy fighting, the division’s motto was created by the Commanding Officer Maj. Gen. Joseph T. Dickman, who cried out “Nous Resterons La,” or “We Shall Remain Here” as they held the Germans back at the river.
The 3rd Infantry Division joined their allies and fighting divisions at the Meuse Argonne Offensive, which was to be called the most brilliant pages of military history.
Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) needed combat experienced soldiers to make a final push against a now weary and fragile German Army. Enlisting all the American divisions and their allies in the final battle, it became the largest and bloodiest battle in WWI, but was also successful.
The massive size of this offensive has dwarfed smaller battles within this offensive, but it led to an armistice, which was signed on November 11, 1918 in Compiegne, France. It ended all fighting at sea, on land and in the air.
One hundred years later, my husband, 1SG Jack Lewis, Ret., and I attended the 100-year memorial ceremony at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery on Sept. 23, in Montfaucon, France. Jack was part of the 82nd Airborne Division. On August 15, 1942, the 82nd Infantry Division was pre-designated as the 82nd Airborne Division, the first in the history of the U.S. Army. I retired as a civilian with the 3rd ID.
The white marble crosses, a tribute to those who fought so gallantly for freedom, is a reminder that 14,246 soldiers are laid to rest here.
During our first visit to this cemetery in 2014, we were told of the anniversary of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and when in section D [of the cemetery], the first cross we paid respect to was a young man from the 82nd Infantry Division. It was then the decision to come back and visit was made.
Even though a rainstorm would dampen the ceremony, it did not diminish the size of French and American attendees to the tribute. The town of Montfaucon was a sea of red, white and blue, not only with American flags, but also those of France. They lined the streets and were displayed in the windows of homes leading up to the cemetery.
Cemetery Superintendent Bruce C. Malone, Jr., of the American Battle Monument Commission at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery greeted visitors and gave a moving speech.
Military color guards, stationed in Germany and wearing WWI uniforms, dignitaries from the United States and France all attended to pay respect to those who paid the ultimate price here 100 years ago.
A sight, never to be forgotten, despite the rain and wind, was the cemetery illuminated by the glow of 14,246 candles placed on top of each cross by French and American volunteers.
Flowers and wreaths were placed outside, and the storm took its toll on them. A thank-you from the United States was placed inside of the memorial chapel.
A grateful nation honored those that fought alongside their allies, defending against evil 100 years ago.
The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial is the largest American cemetery in Europe. A temporary cemetery was established on October 14, 1918 on the terrain captured by the 32nd and 5th Infantry Divisions.
The land was granted for free use by the French government as permanent ground for those who will remain there forever as a reminder that “freedom isn’t free.”
“Here under the clear skies, on the green hillsides among the flowering fields of France, in the quiet hush of peace, we leave you forever in God’s keeping.”
- John J. Pershing, General of the Armies, Memorial Day, 1919