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Our Forgotten Heroes: Why Don’t We Talk About World War I?

Remember the sacrifices service members made—both during and after World War I.

During the "Great War", the United States of America lost over 116,000 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 that turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?

Related: Alvin York Was One of WWI’s Most Decorated Soldiers

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, of which over 1,800 were fatalities, 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, over one million American troops entered the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The offensive, which lasted 47 days, contained some of the most deadly battles in American history. The troops entering the Argonne Forest had no way to know this—and certainly could not have prepared themselves even had they known.

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 caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.

In the Battle of Argonne Forest, America's troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. The battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it—another 95,786 were wounded during battle.

It was this offensive at Meuse-Argonne that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.

Related: 14 Fascinating Books About the War to End All Wars

World War I was a pivotal occurrence for so many things that have occurred in the last 100 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.

forgotten WWI heroes
  • U.S. gun crew at the Battle of Meuse–Argonne. 

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Related: 19 Facts About Black History That You Might Not Know 

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—they were deeply suffering because of their service for their country.

Veterans received just $60 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 pay a premium that came out of that allotment, reducing their income even further. Many were too severely disabled to work, and the money they received from the government didn't cover living any kind of quality life.

forgotten wwi heroes
  • The 369th Infantry Regiment parade through New York City.

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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. The 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.

Related: How Western Union Helped The U.S. Enter World War I 

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.

Published on 14 Apr 2020

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