The Army, our oldest branch of military service, was founded on June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress enlisted soldiers in service of the American Colonies. Initially, the Army was created to fight alongside state militias for American independence from Great Britain and to protect the freedoms of those who lived in the original 13 colonies. After the Revolutionary War, there were ongoing discussions about whether there was need of a standing Army during peacetime. It was not until 1789, that President George Washington convinced Congress to recognize an ongoing role for the Army under the new Constitution.
Today, the Army is the largest branch of the American military and makes up more than 36 percent of its active duty members with nearly 500,000 active members of the U.S. Army, 189,000 in the Army Reserves and more than 330,000 in the Army National Guard. Nearly 50 percent of our Army’s enlisted, active-duty members are under the age of 25.
In celebration of the Army’s Birthday, we share with you the story of a WWII Veteran who you can learn more about, among many others, here at the Memorial and Museum. His name is Robert Maxwell, and he was a lifelong Quaker born in Boise, Idaho. So, when he was drafted during WWII, Robert was offered conscientious objector status. Maxwell declined stating he felt a strong duty to serve his country. He was deployed in 1942 and became an Army technician fifth grade for the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
Overseas, Maxwell was a “wire-man” assigned to string cables enabling real-time communications. Despite being injured at the Battle of Anzio, he rejoined his unit in France. In the early morning darkness of September 7, 1944, he heard a hand grenade hit the ground. After locating the grenade outside his battalion’s observation post, he clutched a blanket to his chest and smothered the grenade – absorbing the full explosion with his body – saving the lives of three other soldiers. Maxwell survived the explosion and earned a Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre, as well as two Silver Star and Purple Heart medals.
After serving and risking his life both for his fellow soldiers and for our freedoms, Robert Maxwell’s story now serves as an inspiration to all. While he passed away in 2019 at the age of 98 in Bend, Oregon, Robert Maxwell will always be remembered. His portrait by retired Air Force Staff Sergeant and photojournalist Stacy Pearsall hangs proudly in the Memorial and Museum’s Great Hall as part of the Veterans Portrait Project.
As we recognize the United States Army on its 245th birthday, keep in mind the sacrifices that have been made by countless men and women since its conception in 1775. From the lives lost during the Revolutionary War, to the sacrifices made on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, to the challenges our current military forces face, members of the U.S. Army have been laying down their lives for our freedoms and our safety since the birth of our great nation.
Each service member has a story. We invite you to hear them and share stories with us here.
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Army and Stacy Pearsall of the Veteran Portrait Project