During the “Great War,” the United States of America lost over 116,000 of her troops in a span of only 19 months. While initially remaining neutral and refusing to enter into World War I when it began in 1914, that changed after repeated attacks on America’s ships. In 1917, the U.S. entered into the fray, declaring war against Germany.
It can be argued that without American’s force beside the allies, the war wouldn’t have ended in victory, but a stalemate. History has documented this impressive and vital piece of our story. So why don’t we talk about it and those incredible heroes who turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?
Why don’t we discuss how more Marines were killed or wounded in the battle of Belleau Wood than their service’s entire history at that point? That battle alone claimed over 10,000 American casualties in just three weeks. It should also be known that France refused to enter into this particular battle because they felt it was too dangerous. Instead, they insisted that the Americans do it.
We did, but it came at an extremely heavy cost.
In September of 1918, 1.2 million American troops entered into the deadliest battle in its history. Many were undertrained and not yet battle-tested – but their sheer numbers and grit did what other armies could not in four years. It was an incredible offensive effort as the Expeditionary Forces of the United States actually caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.
America’s troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. This battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it. We also had 192,000 casualties. It was this specific battle at Meuse-Argonne, or The Battle of Argonne Forest, that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.
This war was pivotal for so many things that have occurred in the last hundred years. We need to remember those lost their lives in the name of democracy. Let us also not forget the ones that died slowly years following World War I due to the effects of the lingering bullets, “shell shock” (now called post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of poison gas exposure.
Those who survived through all of that though? Their personal war at home was just beginning.
When service members returned home following the end of World War I, they were celebrated with parades – if they were white. The African American men who returned home after fighting alongside their brothers’ in arms were treated with open hostility and disdain. Some were killed.
The years following the “Great War” were not kind or easy to digest but need to be remembered. They matter.
Following the war, the Great Depression and race riots wreaked havoc on the United States, leading many to question what they fought for. Not only did they question their sacrifice – but they were deeply suffering after their service for their country.
Veterans received just with an honorable discharge. Although they received monetary allotments if they had a disability through the War Risk Insurance Act, it wasn’t enough. They were also required to maintain insurance for care and paid a premium that came out of that allotment, reducing their income even more. Many were too severely disabled to work to make any extra income and the money they received from the government didn’t cover living any kind of quality life.
High unemployment, lack of quality medical care and poor housing was the “thanks for your service” that these veterans received – if they were white.
The African American veterans were often denied housing or any kind of equality – leaving them homeless and destitute. This terrible choice for America to treat these brave men in such an abominable way would go on to pave the way for the next seventy years of struggle, advocacy, and racial tension that the country had ever seen.
The government failed all of its returning servicemen.
America failed its heroes by avoiding that chapter in its history.
Our World War I veterans did fight, suffer and die for our freedom. Let us not forget it.