CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, commemorated the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Makin Nov. 26.
The annual Makin Dinner honors the brave legacy of the regiment and is one of many traditions associated with the historic unit. During World War II, the 69th Infantry was federalized and reflagged as the 165th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. Assigned to the 27th Division, another unit with strong New York ties, the 165th fought throughout the war in the Pacific theater at Makin, Saipan and Okinawa.
The dinner is usually celebrated at the unit’s historic Manhattan armory, but the battalion is deployed more than 7,000 miles from home in East Africa.
With Soldiers stationed in Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia, the battalion, augmented with elements from 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry, and 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.
Maj. Gen. Jami Shawley, the CJTF – HOA commander, and Brig. Gen. Stephen Case, the CJTF – HOA deputy commander, attended the dinner as distinguished guests.
Other attendees included Maj. Gen. Michel Natali, the assistant adjutant general, Army, for the New York National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Thomas Spencer, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division.
Despite the distance and the logistical challenges that come with being deployed to a combat zone, the unit held the event as usual, albeit with a few changes. Noticeably absent from the ceremony were friends, families, and members of the regiment’s veteran corps.
“This year, our Makin Dinner has changed,” said Lt. Col. Shawn Tabankin, the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment commander. “Instead of roasting one another and enjoying the company of our previous generations of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, we are here, now, in the Horn of Africa, creating the next generation of veterans.”
The dinner menu included steak, pork chops, sausage and meatballs, a recreation of what the unit’s Soldiers ate on the eve of the battle in 1943. The traditional dessert, a piece of apple pie topped with a slice of American cheese, wasn’t available so far from home.
Another tradition at the dinner is the regimental cocktail, made with one part Irish whiskey and two to three parts champagne. The drink’s origins date to the Civil War. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher, commander of the Irish Brigade at the time, liked to drink whiskey mixed with Vichy water. At Fredericksburg, the general dispatched a Soldier to get the effervescent mineral water. Unable to find the water, the Soldier returned with champagne. Meagher mixed the two and the regimental cocktail was born.
This year, both the whiskey and the champagne were absent. Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Zeller, the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment’s senior enlisted leader, and other senior noncommissioned officers from across the battalion mixed sparkling water and non-alcoholic sparkling wine.
After the drink was mixed, first sergeants led the assembly in toasting the president of the United States, the governor of New York, the New York adjutant general, the New York Army National Guard, 42nd Infantry Division, 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and the 69th Regiment.
Attendees watched a recorded interview of Lt. Col. Kenneth “Scooter” Barclay, a WWII member of the unit, recounting his experience during the battle. Barclay, a member of the 69th Veterans Corps, died in July 2021.
“We remain rooted in our history,” Tabankin said. “These events, unique to the 69th, whether it be Makin Dinner, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Commander’s Reception, or the Logan-Duffy match … it’s important for us to make best efforts to continue these traditions, even when deployed.”
While the evening honored the unit’s legacy, the dinner ended with a view toward the future.
“I look forward to sharing many future Makin Day dinners with you,” Tabankin said. “I look forward to the time when some of our toughest moments, or biggest mistakes, eventually transition to some of the funniest stories for us, as old men and women, to tell back home in our Lexington Avenue armory.”
The more than 1,100 New York Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa return to the United States in the spring.