Photo credit: Michael Kappel
This Memorial Day weekend, I decided to visit the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. After years of visiting Cantigny with my family, and usually rushing through the museum, I had been wanting to go by myself and take time to walk through slowly and read everything. Memorial Day weekend seemed like as good a time as any! Some might say that walking through a museum alone is a lame way to spend a holiday weekend (and they’re probably right), but it was worth it.
The U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division is the oldest division and has seen action in most major conflicts since its formation in 1917. Turns out, there’s more information packed into the museum than I remembered, so in two hours, I had only gotten through the first half of World War II.
At each exhibit, I was struck by the sacrifice of the men of the First Division, from their first victory in WWI at the Battle of Cantigny, France, to their harrowing invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day. The first American casualties in WWI came from the First Division, paving the way for thousands more who have given up their health and their lives for the sake of their country.
One especially incredible story is that of Private First Class Daniel R. Edwards, who won the Medal of Honor for his service in the Battle of Soissons (WWI):
Reporting for duty from the hospital, Private First Class Edwards took part in fierce fighting on the first day of the Battle of Soissons, 18 July 1918. An exploding shell pinned Pfc. Edward’s right arm between rocks of the trench wall. He freed himself by severing his arm at the elbow and binding his wound. He then killed four Germans and took four prisoners with his .45. He escorted his prisoners back to the American lines, forcing one of them to carry his shattered, severed arm. While doing so, Pfc. Edward’s legs were shattered by an enemy shell that exploded close enough to kill one of the prisoners. He directed the surviving prisoners to carry him the rest of the way. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Calvin Coolidge. Pfc. Edwards was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic efforts at the Battle of Cantigny, where he was wounded prior to this action.
What’s amazing is that, in those two hours, everything I read was about just one division in only two of the wars in our nation’s history. As much information as the First Division Museum displays, it barely scratches the surface of the full story.
So with that, thank you to all the men and women who have given so sacrificially to this country. Your individual stories so often go untold, lost in the bigger picture of battle and war; but each one of you deserves to be remembered for the risks you have taken, and the losses you have suffered, due to your service.
How you are choosing to remember this Memorial Day?