Military historian Patrick K. O’Donnell, author of the best-selling book Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Friday’s edition of Breitbart News Daily to talk about the long history of American military courage commemorated on Veterans Day.
“It’s an incredibly important holiday,” said O’Donnell. “This is commemorating veterans who are living. It was originally called Armistice Day for the cessation of hostilities with imperial Germany in World War One. World War One – who cares, right? The reason why we should care is it was arguably the most important event of the 20th Century, that continues to cast a shadow on all of our lives.”
“For instance, the entire Middle East was created from a flawed treaty from World War One,” he noted. “The rise of communism, international finance, America’s rise to the world stage, all begins in World War One, the modern military. It’s an incredibly important event.”
“Very few people know about it. It’s kind of a lost generation in many ways. That generation of doughboys that fought World War One is an incredible generation that’s largely been lost to time. To this generation, we don’t even know about them and what they fought for, why they fought for liberty and freedom, in one of the most brutal wars of the 20th Century where millions died,” O’Donnell said.
“The sacrifice that these individuals made for America is really staggering. This is a time when America was completely unprepared. The size of the standing army in 1917, 1916 was on par with, like, Belgium. That’s how small it was. It had to grow to nearly four million men overnight. That in itself is an incredible story of how we mobilized, and really the United States made the difference in World War One,” he said.
“One of the most deadly battles of World War One was at the Meuse-Argonne, which took place beginning on September 26th, and it spans all the way to November 11th. Some of the most deadly combat occurred after the armistice was effectively signed. On November 10th, men were still crossing the Meuse river,” he recalled.
“I just finished a book called The Unknowns, it will come out in May next year. It captures the story of America’s Unknown Soldier, as well as Pershing’s body bearers who brought him back, who were the most decorated enlisted men of the war. Each one of those stories is compelling, but one of the salient points is the last day of the war, and these men were pushed into combat. They didn’t know it was the last day of the war, and they had to cross the Meuse River, right into machine-gun positions. It’s really an incredible and powerful and compelling story,” said O’Donnell.
“There is a real concern about our history slipping away,” he warned. “I see it in many, many quarters. For instance, with Washington’s Immortals, which is kind of the first ‘band of brothers’ in the American Revolution, it covers the Maryland Line or the Maryland Regiment that fought through the American Revolution. Their epic stand was in Brooklyn, where we had an American Thermopylae. Effectively four companies of Marylanders charged into a house that was occupied by Cornwallis, and literally they helped save Washington’s army.”
“This was an engagement, an American Thermopylae, that literally could have led to a crushing defeat and the end of the Revolution, had it not been for their stand,” he continued. “But if you go up to Brooklyn, there are hardly any interpretive signs. The land itself is being developed, where there is potentially a mass grave. This is history that just continues to be slipping away.”
“I think it’s really important that we preserve it and also tell it. History isn’t just about facts, and dry numbers, and things like that. It’s about stories, and it’s about individuals. There are so many fake heroes in our society today, where we put people up on a pedestal that either sell records, or are on a playing field, but the real heroes are those that sacrifice their lives for this country, this great country,” he said.
“For instance, the Marylanders, this is the genesis of our country – the first month or so that we declared independence. We were fighting against the greatest army, arguably, in the world at the time, for a country and a cause that they don’t even know, but they did it. These are people that are worth saving, and then worth understanding. It’s worth understanding through their stories, because they’re human beings that went through an incredible period of time, of sacrifice that we can’t even imagine today,” O’Donnell declared.
“Seven years of war in the American Revolution, these are Washington’s Immortals that marched in some cases over 4,000 miles barefoot,” he elaborated. “These guys never got paid, for the most part. They were fighting the most powerful army in the world, and they were fighting fellow Americans in the first American civil war. The Revolution pitted brother against brother, where many Americans sided with the British or they were loyalists, or loyal Americans. Those sides and allegiances shifted with the political climate as well as victories on the field of battle.”
O’Donnell suggested Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as excellent locations for showing proper reverence to America’s soldiers on Veterans Day
“From a personal level, it’s just the veterans in your own family,” he said. “Just getting to know their sacrifices, their stories. That’s something I encountered with the seven books I’ve written on World War Two, where so many of the veterans of that generation have passed. What I encountered, and many other historians have encountered, is that this is a generation that never talked about their war, and their stories were slipping away with them, the Greatest Generation – the ‘Great Generation,’ I should say.”
O’Donnell offered the nights of November 10th and 11th, 1918, where the 5th and 6th Marine regiments of the 4th Brigade had to cross the Meuse River during World War One, as an event to reflect on this Veterans Day.
“Today is November 10th. It’s the 242nd birthday of the Marine Corps, which was born at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia,” he added. “This is the storied Marine Corps, the legend of the Marine Corps that fights in every major and small engagement of America. During World War One, it’s the Marine Corps that helps save Paris from the German army, and then they fight in nearly every major battle. They were there on the day, in the last hours of the war, sacrificing. It’s a story of courage, and it’s also a forgotten story.”
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