LATHAM, N.Y. – The New York National Guard marked the 245th birthday of the U.S. Army June 12 with an abbreviated ceremony, designed to comply with efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Instead of a cake-cutting ceremony before a formation of 300 service members and civilian employees at New York National Guard headquarters, just a handful of participants took part. The ceremony and remarks by Brig. Gen. Michel Natali, the assistant adjutant general, Army, were taped to be viewed later on the internet.
In another concession to pandemic precautions, the traditional piece of Army birthday cake served on the spot was replaced by cupcakes laid out on a table in the headquarters building. The large sheet cake was replaced by a very small, symbolic cake.
Master Sgt. Roger Townsend, 59, of Latham, who joined the Army in 1984, and Spc. Charles Fetzer, 22, who joined the Army in 2017 and lives in Old Chatham, helped Natali slice the cake with a ceremonial saber.
Traditionally, the oldest Soldier – representing the past of the Army and its traditions – and the youngest Soldier – who represents the future of the Army – cut the birthday cake.
Even though the ceremony had to be changed, it is still important to recognize events like the Army birthday, Natali said. These events let Soldiers focus on the history of their organization, he explained.
The New York National Guard recognized Memorial Day in a similar fashion.
Fetzer said he was honored to represent the Army’s young Soldiers.
“I love to be in the Army,” said Fetzer, a member of the 104th Military Police Battalion. “ It is the first job I’ve had where I haven’t dreaded going to work in the morning.”
“Every day when I put on this uniform I learn new things,” he added. “I am looking forward to my opportunities.”
Townsend, who will retire in November, is assigned to the Joint Forces Headquarters.
He planned to serve three years and instead served 37 years. “I will miss it when I take this uniform off,” Townsend said.
The Army claims June 14, 1775, as its birthday.
That day, the Continental Congress moved to “adopt” troops from New England who were besieging the British Army in Boston, and troops from Connecticut and New York, as a Continental Army. Congress also voted to recruit 10 companies or riflemen directly into this new Army.
In his remarks, Natali emphasized that Soldiers are what have made the U.S. Army successful from the Revolutionary War to today.
One of those Soldiers in 1775 was Col. Goose Van Schaick, Natali said.
Van Schaick was an Albany man who had fought in the French and Indian War and been wounded in the face at Fort Ticonderoga in 1758 while fighting to take it from the French for the British Empire.
Despite that, Van Schaick took charge of one of four New York regiments Congress had authorized on May 25, 1775 – well before the official Army birthday – and led it throughout the Revolutionary War.
He was even wounded fighting at Fort Ticonderoga for a second time in 1778, fighting to defend it from the British Empire.
He went on to fight at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778 and was at Yorktown in 1782.
When the American Revolution ended in 1783, he was still serving and the most senior colonel in the Continental Army, Natali said.
Since then, Soldiers like Goose Van Schaick have been there to serve. They may not make the history books, but they play a key role, he emphasized.
“Over the ensuing 245 years, countless citizens that make up our Army have been there when our nation called,” Natali said.
Soldiers like Van Schaick held the Union Army line at Gettysburg to keep the country together during the Civil War, broke the Hindenburg Line during World War I, climbed the bluffs at Omaha Beach to defeat Hitler in World War II, held the line during the Cold War, and battled terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, Natali said.
“And they are also New York Army National Guard Soldiers who turned out to help our fellow citizens when the coronavirus struck,” Natali noted.
“Each one of us who wears the uniform of the United States Army is part of a story that stretches back 245 years,” he said.
“Each of us has a chance to write our part of that story each and every day, whether we are on active duty or showing up for drill or annual training. It is a tremendous honor and privilege to serve the nation and our citizens,” he said.