No matter the advances in equipment and tactics in a high-tech military world, in the end the ground troops, the foot soldiers, must close the deal.
Here on a wooded, 200-acre plot at Fort Benning, a $100 million museum has been erected in tribute to the infantrymen of the U.S. Army. You could make a case that it is the greatest military show on earth and reminds you that the Army will always have a defining role in war.
You gain the infantryman's perspective in the major conflicts from Redoubt 10 in the Revolutionary War to Antietam; to Soissons in World War I to Omaha, Pointe du Hoc and Corregidor in World War II and to Desert Storm.
With the advent of technology's remarkable features, museums today can bring real-life images to any exhibit. The Infantryman's Museum is no exception. It leaves you overwhelmed with what our troops have accomplished in major wars.
We are amazed by what computer bombing with its pin-point accuracy can accomplish. We are blown away with knowledge of how drones get things done in Afghanistan, programmed and directed by men and women operating high-tech computers at an Air Force base in Tampa, Fla. Victory is always confirmed, however, when the infantry closed the deal-the last 100 yards. "The American infantry in the Argonne won the war," Field Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg, chief of staff of the German Imperial Army, said of World War I.
The exhibits include a variety of artifacts, including a Japanese gas mask, which was designed for a horse, and something called a "belly flopper," which ferried a soldier and a machine gun about. When you walk through the Vietnam War section, you get cold chills as you walk over a booby trap covered by glass. Imagine a solder's agony when he stepped on camouflaged leaves and the bamboo spear pierced his boot and his foot. War, indeed, is hell.
Your political views are insignificant when you pass through this museum. You leave with enduring respect for the American infantryman. You find yourself appreciating the courage, patriotism, and professionalism of the troops who have collectively preserved our freedoms over the years.
Richard Hecht, a graduate of the Fort Benning Infantry School, had been touting a visit to the museum for some time. "You will leave with a greater appreciation for what our military has done for America," Richard said. A longtime friend, Lee Brantley of WTVM in Columbus, made an introduction that heighted appreciation for the museum. Cyndy Cerbin volunteered to be our tour guide and offered insightful commentary as we explored the exhibits.
We saw the dented flask of Lt. Horace Cofer of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The flask, which was in his breast pocket, was hit by artillery shrapnel on D-Day. It probably saved his life. There are tributes to two of the most decorated soldiers of the two World Wars-Sgt. Alvin York in the "War to End All Wars (WW I)"and Lt. Audie Murphy in the "Good War (WW II)." The most sobering reflection came from the display honoring the vast number of Medal of Honor winners. Over one-half of those being awarded the ultimate honor have been infantrymen.
When you are here, you focus beyond the artifacts and the historical exhibits whose meaning has been enhanced by technology. You focus on the raw courage fueled by patriotism that was displayed by our infantrymen. At the end of my tour, I happened to look up and see a fresh-faced soldier in fatigues, proudly showing his family the museum. I had the poignant realization that this young man is willing to die for his country.
The military counts, and if you visit this museum, you are likely to forget politics and instead raise a toast to the countless young men who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for each of us.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.