Colonel McCormick’s War


There is also no hint of criticism of the blundering attrition strategy the U.S. Army employed against the elusive enemy. One must turn to such books as James Kitfield’s Prodigal Soldiers to discover what thinking officers now admit about American military mistakes in this cruel war. But these bitter thoughts cannot be banished or ignored. Vietnam, even after a quarter-century, is still too fresh, too recent, for memories to subside into the apolitical collection of weapons and battlefields that the older wars have become.


Out of Vietnam’s dimness the visitors finally advance into the glaring daylight of the Persian Gulf War. The 1st Division, which returned from Vietnam in 1970, had in the interim become mechanized. Audiovisual programs contain stunning films of the division’s M1A1 tanks racing across the darkened desert to do battle with Iraqi armor, with devastating results. Before the fighting ended, the Big Red One destroyed more than five hundred of the Iraqis’ Soviet-made machines, without losing a single M1A1. Only eighteen division soldiers died.

The audio program ends with a Desert Storm officer proudly reporting that his men were “compassionate”; they did not kill the beaten enemy indiscriminately. It is a startling, yet strangely moving comment.

The wall above the exit door bears the motto of the 1st Division: “No Mission Too Difficult. No Sacrifice Too Great. Duty First.” The words recall the stark realities of Cantigny and Soissons, Omaha Beach, and the Iron Triangle. Sobered, the visitor emerges to the sunny serenity of the lobby and gazes out the window at the sculpture by Donald Delue called The Spirit of American Youth —a muscular figure leaping skyward. The original is in the Normandy Cemetery in France.

Suddenly the peroration of Colonel McCormick’s 1937 speech no longer seems grandiloquent. This visitor, at least, was almost ready to recite it: “March on, then First Division! . . . March on to everlasting glory!” Such is the power of memory when it is evoked by museum creators of the first rank. Forget about the colonel’s retrograde politics. Cantigny is worth the trip.