Colin Powell's Tribute to the GI
As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I referred to the men and women of the armed forces as "GIs." It got me in trouble with some of my colleagues at the time. Several years earlier, the Army had officially excised the term as an unfavorable characterization derived from the designation "government issue."
Sailors and Marines wanted to be known as sailors and Marines. Airmen, notwithstanding their origins as a rib of the Army, wished to be called simply airmen. Collectively, they were blandly referred to as "service members."
I persisted in using GIs and found I was in good company. Newspapers and television shows used it all the time. The most famous and successful government education program was known as the GI Bill, and it still uses that title for a newer generation of veterans. When you added one of the most common boy's names to it, you got GI Joe, and the name of the most popular boy's toy ever, the GI Joe action figure. And let's not forget GI Jane.
GI is a World War II term that two generations later continues to conjure up the warmest and proudest memories of a noble war that pitted pure good against pure evil and good triumphed.
The victors in that war were the American GIs, the Willies and Joes, the farmer from Iowa and the steelworker from Pittsburgh who stepped off a landing craft into the hell of Omaha Beach. The GI was the wisecracking kid Marine from Brooklyn who clawed his way up a deadly hill on a Pacific island.
He was a black fighter pilot escorting white bomber pilots over Italy and Germany, proving that skin color had nothing to do with skill or courage. He was a native Japanese-American infantryman released from his own country's concentration camp to join the fight. She was a nurse relieving the agony of a dying teenager. He was a petty officer standing on the edge of a heaving aircraft carrier with two signal paddles in his hands, helping guide a dive-bomber pilot back onto the deck. They were America. They reflected our diverse origins. They were the embodiment of the American spirit of courage and dedication. They were truly a "people's army," going forth on a crusade to save democracy and freedom, to defeat tyrants, to save oppressed peoples and to make their families proud of them. They were the Private Ryans, and they stood firm in the thin red line. For most of those GIs, World War II was the adventure of their lifetime.
Nothing they would ever do in the future would match their experiences as the warriors of democracy, saving the world from its own insanity. You can still see them in every Fourth of July color guard, their gait faltering but ever proud.
Their forebears went by other names: doughboys, Yanks, buffalo soldiers, Johnny Reb, Rough Riders. But "GI" will be forever lodged in the consciousness of our nation to apply to them all. The GI carried the value system of the American people. The GIs were the surest guarantee of America's commitment. For more than 200 years, they answered the call to fight the nation's battles. They never went forth as mercenaries on the road to conquest. They went forth as reluctant warriors, as citizen soldiers. They were as gentle in victory as they were vicious in battle. I've had survivors of Nazi concentration camps tell me of the joy they experienced as the GIs liberated them: America had arrived! I've had a wealthy Japanese businessman come into my office and tell me what it was like for him as a child in 1945 to await the arrival of the dreaded American beasts, and instead meet a smiling GI who gave him a Hershey bar.
In thanks, the businessman was donating a large sum of money to the USO. After thanking him, I gave him as a souvenir a Hershey bar I had autographed. He took it and began to cry.
The 20th century can be called many things, but it was most certainly a century of war. The American GIs helped defeat fascism and communism. They came home in triumph from the ferocious battlefields of World Wars I and II.
In Korea and Vietnam they fought just as bravely as any of their predecessors, but no triumphant receptions awaited them at home. They soldiered on through the twilight struggles of the cold war and showed what they were capable of in Desert Storm. The American people took them into their hearts again.
In this century hundreds of thousands of GIs died to bring to the beginning of the 21st Century the victory of democracy as the ascendant political system on the face of the earth. The GIs were willing to travel far away and give their lives, if necessary, to secure the rights and freedoms of others. Only a nation such as ours, based on a firm moral foundation, could make such a request of its citizens. And the GIs wanted nothing more than to get the job done and then return home safely. All they asked for in repayment from those they freed was the opportunity to help them become part of the world of democracy and just enough land to bury their fallen comrades, beneath simple white crosses and Stars of David.
The volunteer GIs of today stand watch in Korea, the Persian Gulf, Europe and the dangerous terrain of the Balkans. We must never see them as mere hirelings, off in a corner of our society. They are our best, and we owe them our full support and our sincerest thanks. As this century closes, we look back to identify the great leaders and personalities of the past 100 years. We do so in a world still troubled, but full of promise. That promise was gained by the young men and women of America who fought and died for freedom. Near the top of any listing of the most important people of the 20th Century must stand, in singular honor, the American GI.
A Tribute to the Infantry
Of all WW II war correspondents, Ernie Pyle seemed to best understand and said, "I loved the infantry because they were the underdogs. They were the mud, rain, frost, and wind boys. They had no comforts and they even learned to live without the necessities. And in the end they were the guys without whom the battle could not have been won." And along this same theme, in his book D-Day, Stephen Ambrose stated, "It was not a miracle. It was the infantry. The plan had called for the air and naval bombardments, followed by tanks and dozers to blast a path through the exits so that the infantry could march up the draws and engage the enemy, but the plan had failed, utterly and completely failed. As is almost always the case in war, it was up to the infantry."
I am the Infantry Queen of Battle! For two centuries I have kept our Nation safe, purchasing freedom with my blood. To tyrants, I am the day of reckoning; to the oppressed, the hope for the future. Where the fighting is thick, there am I … I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!
I was there from the beginning, meeting the enemy face to face, will to will. My bleeding feet stained the snow at Valley Forge; my frozen hands pulled Washington across the Delaware. At Yorktown, the sunlight glinted from the sword and I, begrimed … saw a Nation born. Hardship and glory I have known. At New Orleans, I fought beyond the hostile hour, showed the fury of my long rifle … and came of age. I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!
Westward I pushed with wagon trains … moved an empire across the plains … extended freedom's borders and tamed the wild frontier. I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!
I was with Scott at Vera Cruz … hunted the guerilla in the mountain passes and scaled the high plateau. The fighting was done when I ended my march many miles from the old Alamo.
From Bull Run to Appomattox, I fought and bled. Both Blue and Gray were my colors then. Two masters I served and united them strong … proved that this nation could right a wrong … and long endure. I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!
I led the charge up San Juan Hill … scaled the walls of old Tientsin … and stalked the Moro in the steaming jungle still … always the vanguard, I am the Infantry!
At Chateau-Thierry, first over the top, then I stood like a rock on the Marne. It was I who cracked the Hindenburg Line … in the Argonne, I broke the Kaiser's spine and didn't come back 'til it was "over, over there." I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!
A generation older at Bataan, I briefly bowed, but then I vowed to return. Assaulted the African shore … learned my lesson the hard way in the desert sands … pressed my buttons into the beach at Anzio … and bounced into Rome with determination and resolve. I am the Infantry!
The English channel, stout beach defenses, and the hedgerows could not hold me. I broke out at St. Lo, unbent the Bulge, vaulted the Rhine, and swarmed the Heartland. Hitler's dream and the Third Reich were dead.
In the Pacific, from island to island, I hit the beaches and chopped through swamp and jungle. I set the Rising Sun. I am the Infantry!
In Korea, I gathered my strength around Pusan ... swept across the frozen Han ... outflanked the Reds at Inchon and marched to the Yalu. FOLLOW ME!
In Vietnam, while others turned aside, I fought the longest fight, from the Central Highlands to the South China Sea I patrolled the jungle, the paddies, and the sky in the bitter test that belongs to the Infantry. FOLLOW ME!
Around the world, I stand ... ever forward. Over Lebanon's sands, my rifle steady aimed ... and calm returned. At Berlin's gates, I scorned the Wall of Shame. I spanned the Caribbean in freedom's cause, answered humanity's call. I trod the streets of Santo Domingo to protect the innocent. In Grenada, I jumped at Salinas, and proclaimed freedom for all. My arms set a Panamanian dictator to flight and once more raised democracy's flag. In the Persian Gulf, I drew the line in the desert, called the tyrant's bluff, and restored right and freedom in 100 hours. Duty called, I answered. I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!
My bayonet...on the wings of power keeps the peace worldwide. And despots, falsely garbed in freedom's mantle, falter and hide. My ally in the paddies and the forest, I teach, I aid, I lead. FOLLOW ME!
Where brave men fight, there fight I. In freedom's cause, I live, I die. From Concord Bridge to Heartbreak Ridge, from the Arctic to the Mekong, to the Caribbean ... the Queen of Battle!
Always ready ... then, now, and forever.
I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!