Address at the Dedication of the Monument to the First Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, Washington, DC
We meet to dedicate a monument to the memory of the men of the First Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, who gave their lives in battle for their country. Their surviving comrades bestow this gift upon the Nation. It bears mute but enduring testimony of an affectionate regard for those who made the great sacrifice. This beautiful and stately shaft represents no spirit of self glorification. It is a tribute of reverence and sorrow to nearly 5,000 of our immortal dead from those who knew and loved them. The figure of winged victory rises above the scrolls of imperishable bronze on which are inscribed alone the ennobled names of those who fell and through their death less valor left us free. Other soldiers, generals and privates, officers and men, rank on rank, of illustrious fame are unrecorded here. They live. The dead reign here alone.
This memorial stands as a testimony of how the members of the First Division looked upon the War. They did not regard it as a national or personal opportunity for gain or fame or glory, but as a call to sacrifice for the support of humane principles and spiritual ideals. This monument commemorates no man who won anything by the war. It ministers to no aspiration for place or power. But it challenges attention to the cost, suffering and sacrifice that may be demanded of any generation, so long as nations permit a resort to war to settle their disputes. It is a symbol of awful tragedy, of unending sorrow, and of stern warning. Relieved of all attendant considerations, the final lesson which it imparts is the blessing of peace, the supreme blessing of peace with honor.
The First Division has the notable record of being the first to enter France and the last to leave Germany. Hurriedly assembled, largely from Regular Army units, its first four regiments landed at Saint Nazaire at the end of June, 1917, the advance guard which in a little more than a year was to be swelled to the incredible force of two millions. It had two battalions in the Grand Parade of July 4th in Paris, when tradition claims that a great American Commander laid our wreath at the tomb of the great French man with a salutation which was short but all embracing in its eloquence: "Lafayette, we are here." Other units mostly from those who served in Mexico, made the Division so cosmopolitan that it represented every state and all the possessions of the Union. It was comprehensively and truly American.
After short and intensive preparation the Division was ordered from the Gondrecourt training area to the Sommerville sector, where on October 23rd the first American shot was fired. On October 25th the first American officer was wounded, and two days later the first prisoner was taken. On the night of November 2nd Corporal James B. Gresham and Privates Thomas F. Enright and Merle D. Hay, killed when their trenches were raided, were the first Americans lost in the war. In January, 1918, the Division was removed to the Toul sector, where for the first time Americans were given charge of a section of trenches. From here it was sent to Cantigny sector to resist the March drive against Amiens. To this place General Pershing came on a personal visit, warning the officers of the desperate character of the fighting which was soon encountered. The trenches here were imperfect and the troops were constantly exposed to shellfire. The first offensive of an American unit was the attack on Cantigny. Repeated and desperate efforts were made to recapture the town from the Americans in order that they should not be permitted to record a success, but the town was held and victory remained with the First Division. In July the Division was placed in the Soisson sector to take part in the attack on the German salient. In five days of heavy fighting it advanced 11 kilometers and captured 3,500 officers and men, with large quantities of materials. Its own losses were 78 officers and 1,458 men killed, 214 officers and 6,130 men wounded, 5 prisoners and 390 missing; a heavy price to pay, but the victory at Soisson has been called the turning point of the war.
Following a fortnight for rest and replacements a short service in the Vosges preceded the attack on St. Mihiel. The offensive against this position, which has been held for four years, was the first operation of an American army under an American commander. Under the direction of General Pershing nine American and some French divisions won complete victory, the Americans capturing 16,000 prisoners, 443 guns, and 240 miles of territory. The Division was then sent to the Meuse.
In the great final offensive about a million American troops were engaged in the Argonne sector. After being held in reserve five days after operations opened, the First Division went into action October 4th to open the way on the east for a flank attack upon the forest. From then until the Armistice fighting and marching were continuous. The early successes of the American forces in the Argonne attack started a general German retirement about November 2nd. From then until Armistice Day the advance continued. On the night of November 5th the First Division reached the Meuse. It was ordered to attack Sedan. Between 4:30 in the afternoon of November 5th and midnight November 7th, the Division advanced and fought constantly. The 16th, 18th and 28th Infantry Regiments covered 35 miles each, while the 26th Infantry, under the command of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, traversed no less than 45 miles. Then came the Armistice. Immediately after the Division was ordered into Germany and stationed at the bridgeheads east of the line, from which it was with drawn about a year later, the last units reaching New York on September 6, 1919.
Such in barest outline is the war record of the First Division. In little more than a year it lost by death 5,516, of which 4,964 were killed in battle. Over 17,000 were wounded, 170 were reported missing, and 124 were taken prisoners. These numbers nearly equal the original strength of the Division. In General Order No. 201, of November 10, 1918, his only General Order issued referring exclusively to the work of a single Division, after describing your difficult accomplishments, General Pershing concluded thus:
"The Commander-in-Chief has noted in this Division a special pride of service and a high state of morale, never broken by hardship nor battle."
Five different Generals commanded the Division, all of whom won high distinction and commendation. They were William L. Sibert, Robert L. Bullard, Charles P. Summerall, Frank Parker, and Edward F. McGlachlin.
The little that I can say in commendation of the service of your Division is but a slight suggestion of what is deserved. Every unit of the American Army, whether at home or abroad, richly merits its own full measure of recognition. They shrank from no toil, no danger and no hardship, that the liberties of our country might adequately be defended and preserved.
We raise monuments to testify to the honor in which we hold men for the work they have done, and to be a constant reminder to ourselves and future generations of the lessons their actions have taught us. A tradition reminds us of the ingratitude of republics. That supposition must have arisen before America was very far advanced. It is true that we do not pay much attention to those who serve us in civil life. The honor bestowed during the term of the office may well be thought adequate recognition. When our country was young and struggling, poor and unorganized, it found difficulty in even paying those who fought in the Revolutionary War. It is well known that Washington was not even a dollar a year man, but donated his great talents to his country. But after our Constitution was adopted and the national finances were restored to order, and as the resources of the country grew, the nation did not fail in its duty toward those that won our independence. The unsurpassing honor in which the nation has always held its defenders has since that time been reflected in a policy too familiar to need mention. The great contest which Lincoln directed ended less than sixty years ago. Those who fought in it and their dependents have been paid about 6,000 million dollars, averaging $100,000, 000 a year, and payments are now going on at the rate of about a quarter of a billion dollars each year. The participants in the Spanish War are being provided for along the same direction. For that which might be broadly characterized as relief work for the veterans and their dependents of the World War, the Government has already appropriated well towards 3,000 million dollars. But this is not the measure, it is only an indication of the high regard and the abiding honor which America bestows upon its loyal defenders. It cannot be measured in money. How poor and cheap and unworthy would be that attitude which could say: "You have offered your life. Here is your dollar. That discharges the debt. Take it and go." The nation recognizes towards them all a debt which it can never repay, but which it will never repudiate. Standing to their credit will forever be an inexhaustible balance of gratitude, of honor and of praise. In song and story, in monument and memorial, in tradition and history, they will live in the heart of the people forever more.
For the aid and relief of all veterans suffering disability by reason of service, and of their dependents, with the unanimous support of the country the Government is committed to a most broad and liberal policy. Its administration has been difficult from its very magnitude. It had no opportunity to grow and learn by experience. While a military force of about 4,600,000, of which more than 2,000, 000 were brought from abroad, had to be demobilized and returned to their homes, and a civil force calculated at about 7,000,000, discharged from war industries, had to be relocated in peacetime occupations, an organization complete in all its functions had to be devised to meet this great emergency of relief. Nevertheless, these 12,000,000 people were restored to a life of peace with little economic loss.
To unify the relation of the Government to this whole problem the Veterans Bureau was established. The Bureau is now functioning in the interest of those it is intended to serve. The scattered mass of laws dealing with relief have been coordinated in the Veterans Act of 1924. Government hospital facilities have been made available to all veterans of all wars, whether the disability was or was not due to military service. The needy are even furnished traveling expenses to reach the hospital. Since 1921 a broad policy of caring for the sick has been established. Over $40,000,000 has been appropriated, 25 new hospitals have been completed with over 10,000 beds, and 7 more with about 1700 beds will soon be ready for occupancy. The 25,000 to 30, 000 patients will soon be entirely housed in Government hospitals with several thousand spare beds.
In order that the government might be brought to the Veteran, district organizations provide local relief agencies. Uncertainties are resolved in favor of the service men, and the particular kind of assistance required is supplied. Exceptional benefits accrue to the mentally ill and their dependents. Organization is nationwide to provide employment. In cases of excessive relief, if no fraud is involved the loss falls on the Government. The pension laws for widows and mothers have been liberalized. While there are still 40,000 taking rehabilitation training, over 80,000 have completed these courses and substantially all have been placed in profitable employment.
The caring for those who are the disabled and the dependents by reason of service in time of war is the very first duty of the National Government. I have referred to a few of the representative efforts which our country has made to discharge that duty with an unstinted expenditure which has averaged about half a billion dollars each year. For the relief of stricken veterans and their dependents, America has been proud to establish a new standard.
While this is the first duty, it is by no means the only one. Many others have resulted from the Great War, which must be discharged by the Government and the people. I am well aware that it is impossible to maintain in time of peace the same exalted spirit of patriotism that exists in time of war, and yet, although it may be in a less degree, the country has need of devotion to the same ideals. In our land the people rule. The great truth cannot be too often repeated that this nation is exactly what the people make it. It is necessary to realize that our duties are personal. For each of us our country will be about what we make it. The obligation of citizenship is upon each one of us. We must discharge it in the actions of our daily life. If we are employed, we must be true to that employment. If we are in business, we must be true to that business. What is always of the utmost importance, if we have the privilege to vote we must inform ourselves of the questions at issue and going to the ballot box on election day there vote, as we claim the sacred right of Americans to live, according to the dictates of our own conscience. You who have offered your blood that these supreme rights and privileges might be maintained as a standard of human conduct on this earth must continue to be their chief exponents by what you say and by what you do. The coming generations will reverence your example.
In this presence I am well aware there is no need to urge any support of the American Constitution, but I cannot let this occasion pass without expressing my most strong and emphatic commendation for the reverence which your words and actions constantly express for the liberty giving provisions of the fundamental law of our land. You have supported the Constitution and the Flag which is its symbol, not only because it represents to you the home land, but because you know it is the sole source of American freedom. You want your rights protected by the impartial judicial decisions of the courts where you will have a right to be heard and not be exposed to the irresponsible determination of partisan political action. You want to have your earnings and your property secure. You want a free and fair opportunity to conduct your own business and make your way in the world without danger of being overcome by a Government monopoly. When the Government goes into business it lays a tax on everybody else in that business, and uses the money that it collects from its competitors to establish a monopoly and drive them out of business. No one can compete. When the Government really starts into a line of business that door of opportunity is closed to the people. It has always been an American ideal that the door of opportunity should remain open.
But while naturally we think of our own domestic affairs first, we have to remember not only that we are affected by what happens abroad, but that we are one among other nations. If there is anything which is dear to Americans, which they are bound to preserve at all hazards, it is their independence. I mean by that the privilege of reserving to themselves the choice of their own course and the decision of their own actions. We do not propose to entrust to any other power, or combination of powers, any authority to make up our own mind for us. But we recognize that what others do has an effect upon us. Had it not been so, it would not have been necessary for you to go overseas. We recognize too that we are a part of the great brotherhood of mankind, that there are mutual duties and obligations between nations as there are between individuals. America has every wish to discharge its obligations. This is a condition which is not imposed upon us by artificial covenants, but which results from the natural relationship among nations. We wish to recognize these requirements for the promotion of peace. War and destruction are unnatural; peace and progress are natural. It is in that direction that the people of the earth must move. I am in favor of treaties and covenants conforming to the American policy of independence to prevent aggressive war and promote permanent peace. But they have little value unless the sentiment of peace is cherished in the hearts of the people. Peace is the result of mutual understanding and mutual confidence exemplified in honorable action. Your adversaries found that when you made war, you made it with all your might. The nation nourished the war spirit. But now we have made peace. If it is to be real peace, if it is to result in the benefits that ought to accrue from it, it will be because we nourish with equal sincerity the peace spirit, because we seek to establish mutual good will, because we are moved by the sentiment of magnanimity.
No other basis exists for the progress of civilization on earth. We had many motives for entering the war. I shall not attempt to catalogue them. What we need now is to cherish the motives for which we made peace. We want to see the Allies paid, we want to see Germany restored to a condition of productivity and progress, under which she will be able to take up the burden of civilization. Our country has been working toward that end. Our Government suggested a plan, the essence of which was that it should be carried out by private citizens unhampered by political consideration. That was done. The American government was the architect, the experts unconnected with any government built the structure known as the Dawes Plan. The Allies and Germany have adopted it. It remains for private enterprise in this country and Europe to help finance it.
When this is done I believe Europe will begin to revive, and that we shall receive the benefit of a larger market for the products of our farms and our factories. Above that we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we have done what we could to dispel the hatreds of war, restore the destruction it has wrought, and lay a firmer foundation for industrial prosperity and a more secure peace. To promote these ends, reserving complete jurisdiction over its own internal affairs and complete independence to direct its own actions, America should always stand ready. I have already indicated many times my wish for an International Court and further disarmament.
We cannot claim that under our institutions we have reached perfection, but we are justified in saying that our institutions are the best for the promotion of human welfare that the ingenuity of man has ever been able to devise. We cannot claim that our Government is perfect, but we have the right to believe that it is the best that there is. We do not claim we have been able to discharge our full duty towards the other nations of the earth. But we have a right to believe that we have been the most effectual agency in helping to restore Europe. If anyone doubts the depth and sincerity of the attachment of the American people to their institutions and Government, if anyone doubts the sacrifices which they have been willing to make in behalf of those institutions and for what they believe to be the welfare of other nations, let them gaze upon this monument and other like memorials that have been reared in every quarter of our broad land. Let them look upon the representative gatherings of our veterans, and let them remember that America has dedicated itself to the service of God and man.
Calvin Coolidge, Address at the Dedication of the Monument to the First Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269243