Community honors military during celebration week
Amid a week of celebration in recognition of the armed forces, Gen. Gus Perna, commander of Army Materiel Command, took a serious stance for national security in his remarks to business, community and military leaders who attended the Armed Forces Celebration Week luncheon June 26 at the Von Braun Center.
Acknowledging the Huntsville/Madison County community for its support of Armed Forces Celebration Week, Perna described the week’s events – including a proclamation signing emphasizing the strong bond between the community and its military; the Concert in the Park with the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band from Fort Benning, Georgia; a Gold Star family reception honoring the families of fallen service members; and a community bike ride on Redstone Arsenal, as well as special military discounts at local attractions – as remarkable. The theme for the week was “Honoring the Call to Service, Celebrating the 75th D-Day Anniversary.”
“To all our partners and to all our veterans who served in the past and those serving today, this is an incredible week and I am proud to represent this group here today,” Perna said. “This week is remarkable and a game changer for this entire community, and for current and former members of our armed forces.”
In preparing his remarks for the luncheon, Perna said one question kept coming to mind, a question that is important for all U.S. citizens: What is the purpose for the existence of the U.S. armed forces?
“The first reason is to keep the peace through strength, readiness and deterrence,” he said. “President George Washington once said, I quote, ‘It must be known that we are, at all times, ready for war.’ Being prepared and ready for war is our best way to deter those who are against what we stand for, for the freedoms on which our great nation was founded.”
There have been times in the nation’s history, Perna said, when it wasn’t ready for war and the price the nation paid for the lack of preparation was costly. Referring to the AFCW theme, in May 1940, four years before D-Day, the U.S. was not prepared for the threat presented by Germany and its Axis allies.
“A very large and modernized German military supported by a robust industrial complex had just defeated the armies of France, Holland, Poland and the expeditionary forces of Great Britain,” he said. “Frankly, the United States may not have done any better because we were not prepared, we were not ready. We needed people who were trained to fight, and we needed industry that could produce machinery and weaponry.”
At the time, the U.S. military was only 334,000 strong and was using equipment from World War I. In addition, the nation’s defense industry did not exist.
“I have said it many times before – the difference between being ready and reacting is measured in the number of lives lost. It was hard to prepare for that war and to have an understanding of the war in our future. We did not have enough time to prepare,” Perna said.
Still struggling to ramp up its military, the U.S. was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.
“A young U.S. Navy sailor named Sherwin Callander was sailing toward Hawaii and heard the attack on the ship’s radio,” Perna said. “When he and his crew arrived the next morning, he said it was like looking at a mass murder scene. The difference between being ready and reacting is measured in lost lives. Sherwin Callander saw that firsthand.”
When deterrence fails, the second reason the U.S. armed forces exists, Perna said, is to fight and win the nation’s wars.
“That means dominating our enemies with overwhelming firepower, strategic and tactical supremacy, precision logistics and disciplined professionalism,” he said.
By late 1942, the U.S. military strength had grown to 3.9 million with an industrial output exceeding the production effort of the Axis powers. During the war, the U.S. military swelled to 12.2 million and U.S. industry produced more than two-thirds of the equipment used by the Allies. By 1944, the U.S was ready for D-Day operations.
“Piloting a Higgins boat that hit Utah Beach on D-Day was that same sailor from Pearl Harbor – Sherwin Callander. He carried Soldiers back and forth from ship to beach under heavy fire,” Perna said.
Callander, from Madison, was in the audience as Perna spoke. He and other local World War II veterans were recognized at the luncheon, including Howard Polin, who, as an Army meteorologist, ensured fighter pilots and bombers knew the weather so they could maneuver in the attack; Ross Malone Jr., who, as a member of the Army’s 973rd Combat Support Group, landed nine days after the initial attack and pressed into the western front with the Allies; and Ray Watson, who, as a Navy electronics mate, manned an offshore radar research station along the U.S. coast to protect the homeland and shipping lanes from attack.
“These men and 12 million others that rose to the occasion are why we are here today,” Perna said. “They made up for the lack of preparation and they did it quickly, and they did it remarkably well.”
Since World War II, Perna said, the armed forces have continued to focus on the lethality business.
“We are not there for a tie. We are there to overwhelmingly win,” he said. “The secretary of the Army and the chief of staff have led us in a great model for Army readiness, and especially in the ability to modernize and the way we manage power. They have reformed our way of doing business so we can place the right amount of power in the right places.”
The priority – the focus – he said is to ensure the Army is ready when called.
“We want no more Pearl Harbors. We want no more 9/11s. That is what we are striving for,” Perna said. “If the enemy sees a chink in our armed forces – when we are not training right, when we do not know how to modernize, when they think we have lost our will to defend our Constitution – that is when they will strike. Our armed forces are our strength, our deterrent and our defender when it is all-out war.”
The luncheon was the cornerstone of an armed forces celebration that is a longstanding tradition in the Huntsville/Madison County community hosted by the Chamber.
“For more than 35 years, this community has set aside a week every year to recognize and show their appreciation to our military and military families,” retired Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar, chairman of the Chamber’s Armed Forces Celebration Week Committee, said. “It is indeed an honor to be part of a weeklong event that further strengthens the bond the Tennessee Valley shares with its military.”