Two Illinois Army National Guard members from central Illinois were among soldiers from the U.S. and Australia to commemorate the centennial anniversary of an important battle.
Spc. Ryan Beard of East Peoria (pictured left) and Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Koehler of Benson (pictured 2nd right) were among a group of Illinois National Guard soliders who met with members of the Australian Army in Le Hamel, France July 4 to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s Battle of Hamel.
July 4, 1918, Illinois National Guard soldiers fought for the first time in WWI, alongside soldiers from the Australian Army. The Battle of Hamel is considered a turning point toward Allied victory.
The group of Illinois National Guard soliders who helped commemorate the anniversary, including Beard and Koehler, were led by Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr., adjutant general for the Illinois National Guard.
Koehler, in a news release from the Illinois National Guard, described the trip as a moving experience.
“Just as the soldiers of the 33rd Infantry Division were brought into the confidence of their Australian comrades a century ago, we soldiers of the Illinois Army National Guard of today worked seemlessly with the Aussies,” Koehler said. “As it happened in the past, they almost immediately referred to us as the ‘Yanks.’ This proved to me that the same cooperation that existed between allies 100 years ago in the fight to free France from German control is still alive and well today.”
Hayes said the Battle of Hamel remains a point of pride for the Illinois National Guard.
“To think that Illinois was the first state National Guard that was activated by the president, the first units that ever fought with the Australians, and the first units to serve under command of another nation…we’re duly proud as Illinois National Guardsmen of that. We’re proud of our history and we’re proud to share it with our friends from Australia,” Hayes said.
The Battle of Hamel was the first time the United States and Australia united and fought against a common foe. It was also the first time the Allied Forces coordinated an all-arms battle with tanks, aircraft, artillery, and machine guns.
As described in a letter dated July 5, 1918, by World War I Australian Lieutenant General John Monash, “That soldiers of the United States and of Australia should have thus been associated for the first time in such close cooperation on the battlefield is an historical event of such significance that it will live forever in the annals of our respective nations.”