KINDERHOOK, N.Y. – New York National Guard Airmen honored Martin Van Buren, the nation's eighth president, on Dec. 5 in the Hudson Valley village where he was born and died.
Brig. Gen. Michael Bank, the assistant adjutant general-air for the New York National Guard, joined Command Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Trottier, the top noncommissioned officer of the 109th Airlift Wing, in presenting a wreath from President Donald Trump at Van Buren's grave on the 238th anniversary of his birth.
Each year, military officers place a wreath from the current occupant of the White House at the graves of deceased presidents on the anniversary of their birth.
The New York National Guard is also responsible for placing wreaths at the graves of President Chester Arthur, the 21st president of the United States, in Albany, and Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, in Buffalo.
Bank and Trottier were accompanied by an Honor Guard of Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.
"It's a great honor to represent President Trump and salute President Martin Van Buren," Bank told a sparse crowd of people on a cold, rainy morning at Kinderhook Reformed Church Cemetery.
"Martin Van Buren's life spanned an incredible period in American history," Bank said. "He was born shortly after the Revolutionary War was over, and he died at the beginning of the American Civil War."
"He served the people of New York and this great nation his entire adult life," Bank said, noting that he "lived and served from this small town, and returned to continue serving this community."
The annual recognition of Van Buren's birthday is a community event in Kinderhook, said Jane Miller, who helps organize each year's memorial.
While the presentation of the White House wreath and the sounding of taps is the highlight of the ceremony, local governments and local entities also presented wreaths.
Van Buren was born on Dec. 5, 1782. He was the first president who had not originally been a British subject. His family descended from the Dutch settlers of New York and he grew up speaking Dutch as his first language.
A historical marker on Kinderhook's Hudson Street indicates the site of the Van Buren family tavern where the president was born. Van Buren became a lawyer and ran for the New York state Senate at age 21. He was selected to represent New York in the U.S. Senate in 1821.
Van Buren played a role in establishing the Democratic Party and served as governor of New York before becoming the secretary of state under President Andrew Jackson. He was vice president during Jackson's second term and was elected president in 1836.
He was so skilled at politics that he was nicknamed "The Red Fox of Kinderhook," in reference to his red hair.
Another nickname for Van Buren – "Old Kinderhook" – reputedly prompted the use of the term "OK." Van Buren reportedly initialed documents he approved of as "OK," and his backers formed "OK Clubs."
Van Buren served for only one term. A recession in 1837, a costly war against the Seminole Indians in Florida, and his refusal to admit Texas to the United States turned many voters against him.
Van Buren ran for president in 1848 under the banner of the Free Soil Party, the first national party to explicitly oppose slavery in the United States. He lost and retired to Lindenwald, his home outside Kinderhook.
He died on July 24, 1862, at age 79 and was buried next to his wife, Hanna, his parents, and his son, Martin Van Buren Jr.