This Is Our Time to Carry on the Legacy

Article excerpt

At dawn on September 17, 1862, Union Gen. Joseph Hooker began a tremendous artillery assault on Confederate Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson's soldiers in the opening salvos of the Battle of Antietam. As his unit marched into battle, Pvt. Ezra Stickley, Company A, 5th Virginia Infantry, said, "I began to feel wretchedly faint of heart, for it seemed timely that the coming of battle meant my certain death."

When the sun set on the cornfields of Maryland, there were more than 12,000 Union dead, wounded or missing, and more than 10,000 Confederate losses, the most casualties on any one day during the Civil War.

I hosted an NCOPD lecture one evening on the Battle of Antietam earlier this year. I, along with 40 other senior NCOs, came away from that discussion in awe of the bravery and dedication of those soldiers who fought that day.

We are in our sixth year in the war on terrorism. Service-members are carrying the heavy load for our nation. From the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Horn of Africa and the Philippines, to the Balkans and the Pacific Rim, soldiers are on the front lines in nearly 80 countries around the world, defending America on foreign shores as we have done for more than 232 years.

Pvt. Donald Chumley was a replacement infantryman who arrived in the Ardennes forest of Belgium on Christmas Day in 1944. Chumley's unit, Company E, 357th Infantry Regiment, was fighting the Germans in the bitter cold on the front lines. In mid-December, Adolf Hitler sent 250,000 soldiers across an 85-mile stretch of the Allied front, from southern Belgium into Luxembourg. German troops advanced 50 miles into the Allied lines, creating a deadly "bulge," that pushed into the Allied defenses.

By the end of January 1945, the Battle of the Bulge was over. The Allies regained the territory they held in early December, but more than 76,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured. Of the 50 replacement soldiers who arrived with Pvt. Chumley on Christmas Day, only six made it to the end of the war. Chumley said of his time in Belgium, "I hesitate to tell of my own experiences those first few days. Many who were not there would think I fabricated the details. Believe me, it happened."

Our nation has asked much of our soldiers and families since the formation of the U.S. Army on June 14, 1775. Many sacrifices were made during the Civil War, World War II and other conflicts during our 232-year history. For those of us serving today, this is our time, and we are being asked to make some great sacrifices for our nation. We stand on the shoulders of those veterans who have served before us, and carry on the legacy of the U.S. Army.

As the warrior ethos states: I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. Those are words we live by as soldiers, words that help to sustain us during good times and bad.

In May I had the honor of attending a memorial ceremony for Spc. Ross McGinnis in his hometown of Knox, Pa. Spc. McGinnis served with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment (Blue Spaders), which deployed from Schweinfurt, Germany, to Forward Operating Base Loyalty, near Sadr City, Iraq, in July 2006. …