A war that began with the shooting deaths of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, duchess of Hohenberg, at 11:15 a.m. on June 28, 1914, would end four years later on Nov. 11, 1918.
While many of us know World War I’s story, the battle that led up to Armistice is hardly taught in schools.
The Battles of the Meuse-Argonne began on Sept. 26, 1918 and ended on Nov. 11, 1918 taking with it 26,000 American soliders’ lives. Up to this day, that battle stands as the single largest number of casualties of all of the wars that American troops have fought in.
When Gen. Ferdinand Foch and the Allied high command learned that the Germans had retreated from the Marne River in July 1918, Foch and his allies designed a series of almost simultaneous offensives against the German armies.
The goal was to cut a rail line in Sedan that had been used to transport supplies to Germany for the war effort against the Allies.
American soldiers headed west of the Meuse River and the French went west of the Argonne Forest. However, the dense Argonne Forest presented a huge, natural obstacle for U.S. soldiers.
Repeated attacks led Allied troops deeper into the Germans’ defensive position. On the 11th day of the offensive, Germany admitted their troops were outflanked and retreated to avoid being captured. At the same time, French troops advanced through the lowlands of Aisne.
By Halloween, American forces had gone 10 miles, while French troops had traveled 20. The dense forest was now clear of German troops.
More than a million Americans participated in the Meuse-Argonne battles.
The lengthy battles took their toll on the American Expeditionary Force’s and its inexperience was making them appear disorganized. However, on Nov. 10, the Allies reached Sedan and cut the rail line, and achieved a huge goal. The next day, Armistice was declared on Nov. 11, fending off any final offensive against Germany.
Many historians consider World War I as one of the great 20th-century watersheds when it comes to history and geopolitics. For it was World War I that led to the fall of four imperial dynasties – in Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. The war also resulted in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The war also destabilized European society and laid the groundwork for World War II.
During World War II, about 12 percent of the U.S. population served in the military, according to data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Defense. Today, with the U.S. population at about 330 million people, only about 1.3 million serve in the military. Another 800,000 serve in the Reserves.
On Monday, as we celebrate Veterans Day, let us not forget World War I and World War II and every single war in which American troops paid the greatest price to protect our freedom.
And as we all stand on their shoulders, let us never take our freedoms for granted.