One hundred years ago a moving scene occurred in Paris. After official American and French ceremonies at noon to commemorate Independence Day, a battalion of the American 16th regiment, from the newly formed 1rst Division, marched through Paris to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had done so much to help the Americans in their Revolutionary War. French troops home on leave, some of them wounded, in impromptu fashion joined the Americans in marching along. The people of Paris went wild, showering the American troops with flowers, hugs and kisses. After the troops arrived at the tomb, Colonel Charles Stanton, a nephew of Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, gave a short speech with an unforgettable ending:
“I regret I cannot speak to the good people of France in the beautiful language of their own fair country.
“The fact cannot be forgotten that your nation was our friend when America was struggling for existence, when a handful of brave and patriotic people were determined to uphold the rights their Creator gave them – that France in the person of Lafayette came to our aid in words and deed. It would be ingratitude not to remember this, and America defaults no obligations.
“Today is the anniversary of the birth of the American nation, of a people whose declaration of rights affirms that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ It is celebrated at home with joy and thanksgiving, with bonfire and illuminations, because we feel that since our advent into the galaxy of nations, we have borne the part of good citizens, respecting the law and living in the fear of God.
“We are a people slow to anger but unyielding in the maintenance of our rights and national honor.
“The patience, the forbearance, the patriotism of President Wilson, who tried every honorable means to avoid this conflict cannot be too highly praised, for he realized the dread consequences of a declaration of war, and the misery it would inevitably invoke. The arrogant, tyrannous representative of a Prussianized autocracy, has violated every law of civilization. He regarded the solemn Geneva treaty, to which his country was a signatory power, as a scrap of paper, deliberately made his preparations while the world slept in fancied security, and then declared war upon the allied powers.
“The United States protested from time to time against his arbitrary acts, receiving from him promise upon promise that he would observe the rules and regulations of war, but every promise was broken, every agreement violated. At last patience ceased to be a virtue and our long suffering President, realizing to the full the responsibility that was his, declared a state of war existed with the German government.
“This declaration was in behalf of more than one hundred millions of free men and women.
“At once a debate was had in Congress as to the best method of recruiting an army which would worthily maintain our national honor.
“A census was taken of the men between 21 and 31 years of age who could be spared, leaving enough to till the soil, to keep our industries speeded up to full production, to maintain law and order and produce revenue as under normal conditions.
“To the eternal credit of America’s youth, more than ten million voluntarily signed this roll of honor. Thus it is that a handful of us are with you today, who have come to blaze the trail for those to follow.
“We have pledged to General Pershing, our distinguished Commander-in-Chief, loyalty and absolute obedience. Under his direction each man will perform his allotted tasks to the end that, upon arrival, American troops, fully equipped, can take their place side by side of those gallant allies who have borne the burden through three deadening years.
“History will record the brilliant achievement of the men of France, and a soil ensanguined by their blood shall be the home of a free people forever. Never can be forgotten the fidelity, the courage, the loyalty of the women of France, who bore her sons uncomplainingly and gave them up unflinchingly. Their presence here, in the somber garments that denote the loss of loved ones, should cause the pulse to quicken, the arm to grow stronger while declaring their sacrifices were not made in vain, and they shall not be called upon again to endure them.
“At some future time another genius of your fair country will compose an anthem, which will unite the moving cadences of the Marseillaise and the quickening warmth of the Star Spangled Banner. This Hosannah will be sung in martial strain with glad acclaim by a liberty loving people, the melody rising to a diapason sinister to tyrants, but soothing as a mother’s lullaby to a people who cherish honor for itself and their posterity.
“America has joined forces with the allied powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore, it is with loving pride that we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great Republic, and here and now, in the shadow of the illustrious dead, we pledge our heart and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue.
LaFayette, we are here!”