BUFFALO, N.Y – With the community gathered in a yearly tradition, the commander of the 107th Medical Group of the New York National Guard's 107th Attack Wing honored the nation's 13th president, Millard Fillmore, on his birthday with a wreath-laying ceremony at his grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Jan. 7.
Col. Eric Laughton, representing President Donald Trump in front of representatives of the various organizations started by Fillmore, laid a wreath at his grave. The 107th has represented the president in honoring Fillmore for more than three decades.
"Excellent tribute to President Fillmore," said Laughton. "Everyone spent time mentioning his strong contributions to western New York."
A Buffalo native born into poverty, Fillmore catapulted himself into the inner workings of the community and was involved in writing the charter that incorporated Buffalo as a city in 1832. He also helped to found such institutions as the Buffalo Historical Society which today includes the Buffalo History Museum and Tifft Nature Preserve, in 1862.
"Though he had little school, he became a successful attorney in the Buffalo area," said Laughton. "He has the classic story of 'rags to riches,' from poverty to holding the highest office in the nation."
Fillmore became vice president to Zachary Taylor in 1849 while serving as the first chancellor of the University at Buffalo. Upon the sudden death of President Taylor in 1850, Fillmore was sworn in on July 9 of that year, leaving his rough start to life well behind him.
"As a Buffalo kid who also grew up in poverty, I can relate to aspects of his life," said Laughton. "I was told numerous times I would fail in life, so it feels good when you can gain a bit of success when told that in your youth. I imagine President Fillmore felt some of that."
Each former president is honored with a wreath at their grave by the current president. The simple wreath adorned and red, white and blue, with a card marked "The President," has been in the hands of the 107th for more than three decades.
After his presidency, Fillmore lived out the remainder of his life in Buffalo with his life Caroline supporting every cause they could. He died on March 8, 1874, and his funeral was attended by hundreds, along with the Senate sending three of its members to honor their former president.
"It was a total honor to represent the office of the president," said Laughton. "It was a unique experience that I did not take for granted, and that I would gladly do again."