WASHINGTON MALL: The earliest tendrils of dawn were just stretching over the Washington Monument when we arrived here at 5:30 this morning.
Why, you are doubtless wondering, were my wife, myself and a friend standing in front of the Korean War Memorial at that hour? My wife is Australian. So’s the friend. And I’m pretty well tied up in the whole Antipodean thing. [Eds. note: the photo above was taken at the Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey on Anzac Day.]
So, what about Australia brought us to the Mall? Gallipoli and Anzac Cove brought us. More than 10,000 dead Australians and New Zealanders during the abortive effort to take Constantinople during World War I brought us. The unshakeable bonds of combat forged during the battle to take the cliffs and advance against an indomitable Turkish foe, and the sense that Australia and New Zealand paid more than their fair share of the dues of freedom during the war to end all wars brought us. My nephew, who just returned from a year’s tour with the Australian Army in Afghanistan, brought us. They are all the subject of Anzac Day, probably the most sacred day of the year for Australians and an important one for many other former British colonies throughout the Pacific.
We joined about 300 others, including the ambassadors of Australia and New Zealand and the Turkish military attache in front of the Korean War Memorial. As we milled about in the early dawn, the automatic sprinklers went off, sending half the crowd scurrying for cover. One can only imagine who forgot to do what the night before…
The crowd was dotted with Australian soldiers who we think were members of Australia’s 2nd Light Horse Regiment, famous for being the first Australian force raised during World War I and for their gallant service at Gallipoli and the Palestine. Around us were American and other allied solders who have recently served with Aussies and New Zealanders, Aussies who live around Washington and even a French officer representing his country’s forces who fought and died at Gallipoli.
We listened to the speeches by the assembled worthies. The Turkish attache, Brig. Gen. Fethi Alpay, memorably quoted Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.
“There is no difference between the Johnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
The deep respect and friendship between Turks and Australians always surprises me, but my wife and many other Aussies I’ve spoken with all remark on it. We are close allies, Australia and America, and we share much. But that bond between Turkey and Australia is unique and transcends governments.
Strictly speaking, ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. But it means far more than that to those who stood and listened as Last Post was played this morning. Americans must remember the Australians and New Zealanders who have fought alongside us so often and do so today in Afghanistan and other far away places. It’s all too close for me to ignore. Remember.