The first American soldiers were mostly untrained farmers, merchants and tradesmen fighting with their own rifles, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel said during a celebration of the Army’s 244th birthday at the McNamara Headquarters Complex June 11.
“Today’s Army has the best equipment, training, leadership and medical available, but we’re here today because of those first soldiers,” said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands.
Despite their differences, soldiers of all time have carried a spark and spirit of liberty that’ve guided them to serve the nation, he continued. “Simply put: When we were needed, we were there.”
The Second Continental Congress created the Army to fight in the American Revolution June 14, 1775, making it one year older than the nation. The Army continued to protect freedom, even as it was torn in two by the Civil War and later in World War I as soldiers fought overseas alongside war-ravaged and depleted allied forces. Twenty years later in World War II, America’s soldiers fought again on foreign land in defense of peace and liberty.
A turning point in World War II began June 6, 1944, with more than 160,000 allied troops landing along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy, France. Army Lt. Gen. Andrew T. McNamara, who founded the Defense Supply Agency in 1961, was then a young colonel serving as a quartermaster general for the First U.S. Army. His mission was to estimate, procure, stockpile and pack everything for the nearly 80,000 troops who would land in Normandy, Seamands said.
“On D-Day, four truck companies from McNamara’s 476th Quartermaster Group followed the troops and delivered supplies at Utah Beach [code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion]. They moved infantrymen forward and prisoners of war and casualties back,” he added. “They carried mines and barbed wire to forward positions, and they even manned machine guns in the face of enemy fire.”
It was one of the hardest fights of the war, and McNamara’s leadership proved the value of carefully planned logistics for troops in battle. The initial assault in Normandy was a make or break event, Seamands continued. That morning, Supreme Allied Commander Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower told his soldiers he had confidence in their courage, their devotion to duty and their skills in battle. He demanded nothing less than full victory, knowing victory was no guarantee.
“After D-Day, allied forces looked more certain and almost a year later Nazi Germany surrendered. The U.S. Army played a significant role in D-Day, just as it’s played a significant role in all the armed conflicts our nation has gone through,” he said.
Through wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers have continually met victory. And part of that success is due to logistics, Seamands added.
“The work you do here at DLA shapes the experience of soldiers you’ll never meet,” he said. “When I was deployed, I never had worry about fuel, supplies or if we would have a meal. I took for granted that my soldiers had what they needed when they needed it. And they did, because of DLA.”
The duty, the burden – the privilege – of defending America’s ideals has fallen upon the shoulders of every generation, he continued. The eyes of the world and Americans’ prayers are with soldiers today as much as they were during the invasion of Normandy.
“As we celebrate the Army’s 244th’s birthday, remember the brave men and women who stand on freedom’s frontier so we can gather for celebrations like this without fears of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] or snipers taking us out,” he said.
The event concluded with a performance by the U.S. Army Drill Team.