GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — New York National Guard Soldiers, Airmen, families and community supporters made up more than 1,200 marchers here Dec. 24 as part of a Christmas Eve Road March to remember the service of past and present troops overseas.
This was the 14th time that people turned out for what's become an annual event, organized by retired Sgt. 1st Class Arthur Coon, a former New York Army National Guard member.
"We began this event in 2004 with just 10 people starting at the Glens Falls Armory," Coon told the crowd before the march began from the Cool Insuring Arena in downtown Glens Falls. "I would never have thought it would grow to the size we have today," he said.
The Christmas Eve Road March was first held for the New York Army National Guard's Company C, 2nd Battalion, and 108th Infantry when the unit was deployed to Iraq over Christmas.
Coon got together with some local Soldiers to conduct a road march in their honor starting and finishing at the Glens Falls armory.
The event has grown every year since, and now includes local veteran organizations, the Association of the U.S. Army, Gold Star Families and community supporters.
"We wanted to make sure they knew we hadn't forgotten them, at this time when we could be sitting at home in our pajamas," Coon said. "To me, [the best part] is the core of the event, sending a message to those deployed, or someone currently serving, it's good for them to know that we remember them."
This year's road march included Soldiers in khaki leading the march instead of the more commonplace camouflage.
A special contingent of New York Army National Guard Soldiers from the 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters, based in Troy, led the road march in replica WWI uniforms, commemorating the service of New York's Doughboys of WWI and remembering their arrival in France in 1917 for combat service.
The 42nd Division was a unique National Guard combat division formed for service in WWI from units across the nation, encompassing 26 states and the District of Columbia. The unit received the nickname Rainbow Division because it "stretched across the country like a rainbow," according the division's first chief of staff, then-Colonel Douglas MacArthur.
This year's Christmas Eve Road March was dedicated to those Doughboys who also marched from their initial staging areas in France to their combat assembly areas, covering nearly 100 kilometers over 18 days, Coon said.
The history of the 42nd Division refers to the road march from Vaucouleurs to Rolampont as the "Valley Forge Hike." A blizzard struck the troops right after Christmas Day for the final leg of their hike, making the march hazardous, with temperatures dropping below zero.
Before the four-mile march started in Glens Falls, Coon thanked all the volunteers and presented awards to those participants with the heaviest rucksack, those registered as the largest group, those who contributed the most toward care packages sent overseas and to the person who traveled the furthest distance to participate, this year from South Africa.