SALEM Mass. - Every April, in a coastal city north of Boston, the Salem Muster is commemorated. For the ceremony this year, the mild overcast day was welcomed, as in the past, the unpredictable New England weather has gone from snowy or rainy to hot and sunny.
Onlookers gather in Salem Commons for the event while the four oldest units in the National Guard and organized militias "muster," just like the earliest armies in the United States military did during the first muster in 1637.
In 2013, President Barack Obama signed legislation sponsored by Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney designating Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard.
"What we do here every April is incredibly important," said Maj. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard as he addressed his troops and the ceremony attendees. "Salem, Massachusetts is recognized by executive order as the birthplace of the National Guard. We have the four oldest military units in the nation's armed forces. What I would ask you to do is learn more about your history, learn more about your lineage and learn more about the other organized militia units we have here today. The Ancient Honorable, Second Corp Cadets, the Lancers, and the YD (Yankee Division), get to know them. Their history goes back as far as ours in the Massachusetts National Guard and further than the nation's."
One of the organized militia, the Second Corp Cadets Veterans Organization (SCCVO), tied in with the Second Corp Cadets, has a lineage founded in 1785 by General Stephen Abbott.
The Second Corp Cadets lineage is tied into the Field Artillery, which was the 102nd Field Artillery in Salem. Now, it is part of the 101st Field Artillery which is one of the four oldest units in the National Guard.
"Having retired from the National Guard myself, I think it is important that the public appreciates the sacrifices that you make and that we made," said Cpt. Jim Sweet, current commander of the Second Corps Cadets Veterans Association, Vietnam Veteran and retired battery commander of the 102nd Field Artillery, Massachusetts National Guard. "So this brings it to the front and says remember! These are the men and women who aren't home a lot, who have to train. They have to do difficult things. They get hungry, they get cold, deploy overseas and they do it so that you can be happy at home. When I was in the National Guard when I was the battery commander, I used to tell the young soldiers; you're only in for a short while. Six years is not a long time in your life. Serve so you can hold your head up with honor."
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker attended the muster, and also attended a wreath-laying ceremony that morning at St. Peter's Church Cemetery.
"One of the most powerful and poignant moments that take place at every one of these events is when we go to the cemetery, several folks in uniform make the trip up to the family members who are left behind present them with an American flag and tell them it's from a grateful nation," said Baker. "It is incumbent on us all to remember and to appreciate the sacrifice and the commitments that were made by those who came before us."
The crowd looked on as the formations of troops performed a "pass in review," where all of the Soldiers and militias move past Gov. Baker and Maj. Gen. Keefe for a visual examination. As they passed, each saluted the reviewing stand.
"It's a wonderful day of celebration, service, history," said a Salem dad who brought his son and daughter out to watch the Soldiers. "It is a tradition for us."
There was also a 19-round howitzer salute fired in honor of the governor and a Legion of Merit Awards ceremony for three Massachusetts National Guardsmen, Col. (Ret.) Charles Cody, Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) Lawrence Waters and Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Peter Chase.
"This is where the first muster was held, it was the start of a dialogue and a series of events that led to a war in which a band of Citizen-Soldiers took on the biggest, brawniest, strongest military force known to man at that time to seek their freedom," said Baker. "Over several years, grit, imagination, perseverance, guts, courage and commitment, they fought their way to the free United States of America."