Service to country is not just a profound statement; it has been a way of life for millions of Americans who have answered the call to defend our nation in our time of need. This week the United States Army will celebrate 242 years of heeding that call to defend our shores and interests abroad and in doing so has built an historic reputation for courage under fire and bravery in the face of adversity.
On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress, representing the citizens of 13 American colonies, authorized the establishment of the Continental Army. The legacy of this branch of our military is extraordinary from its origins as a call to men to volunteer for one year during the continental war to the modern day “sky soldiers” of the Army’s airborne special forces.
Just last week while visiting our soldiers at Fort Bragg I had a very special opportunity to meet an amazing airborne veteran by the name of Rock Merritt. 73 years ago last week, on the anniversary of D-Day, a 20 year old Rock Merritt parachuted onto the fields of Normandy, France.
Kenneth “Rock” Merritt landed alone in a briar patch. Merritt, a corporal at the time with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, on D-Day had jumped along with more than 30 other paratroopers from a C-47 into the French countryside.
He jumped in the Normandy Invasion and Operation Market Garden, and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Merritt served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, 31 of which he spent on jump status. When I asked him what specifically he was told about the mission jumping into Normandy, he said; “ The objectives blended together – One hill, one river, one bridge”. “But young man,” he said to me, “ never forget the greatness of our Army .”
As the U.S. Army’s first four-star general, George Washington set the tone for the greatness that lay ahead when he remarked: “Discipline is the soul of an Army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”
Our nation’s Army has produced some of the most brilliant battle field strategists in history along with national leaders rivaling those of any modern country. Among them have been George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, George C. Marshall, Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, George S. Patton, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., Colin Powell and David Petraeus.
Under their guidance the U.S. Army has become a recognizable elite fighting force with Armored, Cavalry, Infantry, Rangers and Special Forces divisions of legendary stature and reputations, with advanced skills and training.
Today, our Army is America’s second largest employer. If the Army were a city, it would be the 10th largest in the United States. The Army offers over 150 career opportunities across various disciplines, including aviation, information technology, computer, engineering, health care, aircraft and special forces. The motto of “Duty, Honor, Country” is the creed by which the American soldier lives and serves.
The men and women who have selected to serve in the Army must be commended for their efforts to secure our nation from the threats of enemies abroad. And to those who have perished in the fight we as a nation must celebrate their heroism and honor their service as our current Secretary of the Army, Robert M. Speer, noted in observance of Memorial Day: “Take a moment to reflect in the memories of those who forever hold the burden of guaranteeing our freedoms.”
On June 14 let us all come together to recognize 242 years of devotion to keeping our country the land of the free and the home of the brave by recalling the lyrics of the Army’s hymn: “Proud of all we have done, Fighting till the battle’s won, And the Army Goes Rolling Along.”
Mario A. Guerra is the former Mayor of Downey and the current Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army. He can be reached at Mario@GuerraIns.com