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Remarks as Delivered by Admiral James G. Foggo III During the Memorial Day and WWI Centennial Commemoration at the Meuse Argonne America Cemetery May 27, 2018

May 29, 2018 at 12:57 PM UTC
Summary:

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished visitors… Good morning and thank you for allowing me the honor to address you today.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished visitors… Good morning and thank you for allowing me the honor to address you today.

I would first like to quickly thank Mr. Bruce Malone and the entire American Battle Monuments Commission for not just inviting me to speak here today, but also the absolutely immaculate condition they keep the grounds in each and every day.  Bruce and his team, just like the rest of the battle monuments supervisors and superintendents throughout Europe, are beyond dedicated when it comes to preserving these vital pieces of land, over 130 acres here at the Meuse-Argonne, as memorials to our revered fallen, who we honor here today.

This Memorial Day will commemorate the one hundred year anniversary of the ending of World War I, known in its time as the “Great War.” Never before had the world seen such a staggering loss of life over seemingly miniscule diplomatic mistakes that further set the stage for another, and just as tragic, war a mere twenty years later.

As part of the final allied campaign in the western front during the Great War, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the combined American and French effort to break through the German Hindenburg Line and force the German Kaiser to surrender.  Unfortunately, this offensive, which would go down in the records as the second largest battle in American history, involving over 1.2 million soldiers, would produce over one hundred-twenty thousand American casualties, many of which have found their final resting place here, amongst the 14,246 men interred at the Meuse-Argonne.

I often reflect on this war in particular due to my family connection to the continent.  Although I stand before you today as a United States Navy Admiral, my roots are firmly entrenched in Europe as my grandfathers were entrenched here, on the western front, during the Great War as members of Canadian Expeditionary Force.

My grandfathers fought in the trenches between 1914 until the war’s conclusion in 1918.  Harold won the Croix de Guerre avec Palme for action at Courcelette and James was awarded the King George Military Cross at Buckingham Palace.  James was battlefield promoted from private to captain due to the death or injury of every senior in the chain of command.

Today, I brought Harold’s diary here with me today and, if you would indulge me, I’d like to provide you with just a short view from life on the Western Front:

- The first entry, 1 January ’18: [Pause] “After three years of war, I finally decided to write a journal”

- January 25, ’18: “A gas shell fell near us and filled our area-we were wearing our respirators for a very long time…”

- March 4, ’18: “Today a big raid… We were all in our positions…one hundred in the line…Germans came through, almost all were killed…”

As you can hear, Harold fought with his comrades through harrowing experience after harrowing experience, all the while devoted to those in the line next to him.

The men that fought at the Meuse-Argonne were less experienced than my grandfathers, but just as courageous. Under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing, the American Expeditionary Force commander, along with their French counterparts were a diverse group from different walks of life with a common objective: ending the devastating war and bringing peace to this land.

My father followed the example of my grandfathers and these brave men by landing in Normandy during the second World War and remaining in service throughout his adult life.  Returning to Europe after the war, my parents started a family and I was born in Rheindahlen, Germany, headquarters of the NATO Northern Army Group.  So I can safely say that I was “born into NATO” as my father, a Canadian officer, was a true believer in the alliance that I support and defend.

We also pay homage to my French compatriots that sit with us here today and have fought with us since the inception of the United States as a nation.  French sacrifice is as entombed in the ground around us and as we honor the American fallen beneath the soil, we must also recognize the last measure of sheer devotion paid by the French soldiers in battle, shoulder to shoulder, with the Buffalo Soldiers and the Hell Fighters from Harlem that led the American Expeditionary Force.

The Great War was meant to be the war to end all wars as the technology that contributed to the unfathomable loss of life was deemed too destructive to allow war to continue.  Unfortunately, the world has proven that theory erroneous as we move from one conflict to the next to face it again every day.  NATO exists to ensure the world is not engulfed by another “war to end all wars.”  The suffering that occurred one hundred years ago by the soldiers in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and similar battles throughout the Great War demand that NATO accept the responsibility to be better than my grandfather’s generation and utilize the tools of diplomacy and statesmanship to prevent this type of global conflict from ever happening again.

However, should those tools ultimately prove inadequate, NATO will be ready to respond to deter and defend any aggressive action, which could endanger the peace and prosperity of Europe or any other NATO nation for which the men buried here fought and gave their lives to build.

Tomorrow at this time, that flag to my left will be a half-staff to remember the sacrifice that over one million American men and women gave in service to their country.  However, at noon, it will be raised to the top of the flagpole by the memory of the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all people.  As we mark one hundred years, I’m honored to be standing here at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, remembering the fallen, and if you will, please preserve their memory and dedicate your service to their ideals and those of a free and prosperous world at peace.

Long live Franco-American friendship.

Thank you very much.