Guest Editorial by
William L. Enyart
The Adjutant General of the
Illinois National Guard
First Sgt. Johannes S. Anderson ran into enemy fireâ€”his boots kicking up dirt, bullets whizzing by his body, heart pounding, sweat pouring out. But the 33rd Infantry Division soldier had to stop the machine gun that was killing his men. He leaped into the machine gun nest, killed the German crew, captured the weapon, and turned on the enemy. He returned to his wide-eyed troops with 23 prisoners of war.
Anderson received the Congressional Medal of Honor for those actions on Oct. 8, 1918, near Consenvoye, France. A little over a year later, in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first Veterans Day as Nov. 11. We celebrate Veterans Day on the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, a war that was fought primarily by the National Guard.
The scope of our Veterans Day observance has changed, from remembering the dead from one war to a day in which American veterans from all wars could be honored. Since 1636, the National Guard has been protecting our communities from both enemies and natural disasters. We were the Minutemen that fought in the Revolutionary War and the citizen soldiers that fought in every major national conflict since.
This Veterans Day, our nation has been at war for the past nine years. We defend our freedoms from terrorism. We honor and celebrate veteran’s service in past conflicts, and recognize today’s warriors.
The Illinois National Guard has nearly 1,000 soldiers and airmen deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Sinai, Egypt. We also have approximately 3,000 soldiers that returned from Afghanistan last fall who were part of the largest overseas deployment from Illinois since World War II. Eighteen of those soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice.
Since Sept. 11, 34 Illinois National Guard members have given their lives in defense of this nation. Overall, Illinois has lost 261 servicemembers since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
This country has been blessed with citizens who have taken their civic responsibility seriously and have taken up arms and marched to the sound of the guns. First Sgt. Anderson, whose Congressional Medal of Honor now resides in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield, is part of a proud tradition of service that has protected this nation, its communities and its citizens for hundreds of years.