I WAS cruising around Guam the other day, listening to the radio – and no, it wasn’t to Ray Gibson’s show, since I don’t want to make him any more self-conscious than he already is.
The music I heard was a march back to childhood, yet the words I was looking for, “As the caissons go rolling along,” weren’t there. Instead of “Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail,” it was: “First to fight for the right, and to build the nation’s might.”
As you might have guessed, I was listening to a U.S. Army public service announcement noting the service’s 237th birthday. The now-official words of the song actually date back to 1956, when the Army recognized that the day of the horse-drawn artillery ammunition carrier had passed many years before. The song, which history attributes to American forces in the Philippines in 1908 and perhaps as far back as the Civil War, was also criticized for reflecting only one aspect of the modern Army – circa 1950s – when motorized vehicles instead of horses hauled the ammo. Not surprisingly, if you hear it, John Phillip Sousa had a hand somewhere along the way in tweaking the rhythm and lyrics.
That’s how we got "As the Army goes rolling along,” rather than those old-fashioned and outmoded caissons.
Here in Guam, our military associations tend to skew toward the Navy, since it has been the dominant force, actually the seat of local government, for most of the years dating back to the American arrival in 1898. The Marines, stationed here in support of the Navy, are also prominent in our memories.
But when an institution such as the U.S. Army hits its 237th birthday, much of its history will be forgotten or dimmed by the passage of time, and that goes for the Army and its association with Guam. I was truly shocked to read the following bit of “history” on – of all places – the Guam National Guard website: “The U.S. Marines’ invasion of Guam on July 21, 1944 liberated the Chamorro people and returned full ownership of the island to the United States.”
I don’t want to encourage inter-service rivalry, but I am sure that surviving members of the Army’s 77th Infantry Division who were here in 1944, and many thousands of other participants, might have a few bones to pick with that statement.
A historical error in no way discredits our present-day National Guard which traces its way back to Spanish self-defense forces and through the Guam Insular Force Guard. The Insular Force mounted an against-the-odds defense of the island from the 1941 Japanese invasion with Springfield rifles and a couple of old machine guns, after the top echelon American military had concluded Guam couldn’t be held.
Today, we have some 1,800 Guard members, as well as current reservists, and many thousands of our people have served the U.S. military with distinction in the many conflicts since World War II. Every one of them deserves the honor and praise that we accord them on such occasions as the Army’s “birthday party.”
For all of our people who have served in uniform, past and present, my best wishes for this important event.
Sen. Judith Paulette Guthertz, DPA, chairs the 31st Guam Legislature’s Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security. Send feedback to senatorjudiguthertz[at]gmail.com.