Byron Bagby retired in 2011 as a Maj. Gen. of the U.S. Army. He has been assigned to five of the Army's 10 divisions and served in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff in the Directorate of Strategic Plans and Policy, and on the Department of the Army Staff.
He grew up on the west end of Fulton where he lived in the same house until he finished college at Westminster. During his time there, he was a part of the Army ROTC with the plan to fulfill his three-year obligation and go to law school. But he quickly realized he loved the program and the Army more than he originally thought he would. So he stayed in the Army for another 30 years, giving him a grand total of 33 years.
He loved traveling, leading people and meeting new people. He has lived in five countries and nine states. The Army has allowed him to meet tens of thousands of people who he was able to lead on different levels during his career. Being able to travel and be around so many different people gave Bagby an appreciation for a larger part of the world.
"I was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and two of my staff members were killed in that attack," Bagby said. "I've been to combat for almost three years total over different deployments, and I enjoy my military career, and I also enjoy my connection to Central Missouri."
Bagby has been able to visit several cemeteries and battlefields all across the world. But one cemetery resonated with him the most — the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France. In that cemetery is 14,000 Americans who lost their lives during World War I.
"Here we are, 102 years after the armistice was signed," Bagby said. "And we sometimes forget the horror of war, yet the compassion that many of us who serve have for those we engage with."
And when he thinks back on it, it reminds him of a story he once read about courage. The story took place in 1917 in Europe. One side of the battlefield was American soldiers, the other side German soldiers.
During the war, a German soldier tried to cross no man's land where he ended up entangled in barbed wire. An American solider heard his cries of pain and went to help. Once the American and the German soldiers realized what the man was doing, they both seized fire.
The American solider took the German solider in his arms and walked him back to the German trenches where he handed him off to one of the German soldiers. As the American solider headed back to the American trenches, a German officer put his hand on his shoulder and gave the American solider his Iron Cross, which is the highest German award for bravery. Once the American returned to the trench, the war resumed.
"Why did I take two and a half minutes to read that passage?" Bagby asked. "It's to describe to you the horror and just how deadly and dangerous warfare is whether it's World War I, Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan. But also to show you the American soldiers, marine, airline and sailors can be compassionate. They try to defeat their enemy fair and in the laws of warfare, but we all have a way to be compassionate when we have to do so like that American solider did in December of 1917."
Veterans Day is a day for Americans to thank and honor those who have served in American's armed forces. And Bagby challenges everyone to show any veteran appreciation by asking them about their service, by visiting a VA hospital or by displaying a flag.
Growing up, Bagby used to go to the Callaway County Courthouse and look at all the brass plaques in the lobby with the names of all the Callawegians who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. And when he's in Fulton, he stops by the courthouse to admire not only the plaques but also the monument out front with the 110 names of the Callawegians who lost their lives in war.
Bagby has family members who have their names listed on those plaques. His family's military history goes back five generations with his grandfather in World War I, three of his cousins in World War II, his brother in Vietnam, his father-in-law in Korea and Vietnam, his wife, who served 25 years in the army, and his son, who served in the Marine Corps in Iraq. He also mentioned two Bagbys from Fulton who served in the Union Army back in 1864.
"Here we are my friends, Veterans Day 2021," Bagby said. "The next several days there will be parades, banquets, events, ceremonies, celebrations. Many restaurants have offered veterans reduced meals. But again, I challenge you to think about what you can do to show veterans your appreciation. Because while we sit here in our homes and our offices, there are 75,000 Americans who are away from home.
"They are on ships all over the world to protect our freedom; they're on bases in Eastern Europe training with our European allies; they're in Southeast Asia training with the forces in those countries; they are keeping us safe. And I'd venture to say about 25 percent of them are in harm's way in some form or fashion."