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Home : News
NEWS | March 13, 2023

NY National Guard 69th Infantry to Lead St. Patrick’s Parade

By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National Guard

NEW YORK - Although 1,000 Soldiers are deployed in the Horn of Africa, the New York Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, will still lead the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade down Fifth Avenue March 17.

“The Fighting 69th,” as it is known throughout the Army, was organized in 1849 as an Irish-American militia unit in New York’s Lower East Side. The unit’s Soldiers and its veterans have led the parade every year since 1851.

Because of fears of anti-immigrant attacks against the traditional Irish Catholic parade, the 69th was asked to lead the parade to fend off attackers.

This year, the 150 Soldiers of the battalion’s rear detachment will lead the parade, along with the battalion’s veterans.

Lt. Col. Shawn Tabankin, the commander of the 69th, said this parade would be particularly significant for his Soldiers, who have provided security for U.S. facilities in Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia while deployed to the Horn of Africa since last fall.

“I believe it’s even more important to adhere to our traditions and lineage while deployed than when we’re back stateside,” Tabankin said.

“It keeps us rooted to our legacy, sends a message about overcoming adversity by accomplishing something that others might think couldn’t or shouldn’t be accomplished and, quite simply, it’s good for the morale and esprit de corps of our deployed Soldiers in arduous conditions, he said.

Members of the battalion rear detachment will continue the traditions of the 69th for St. Patrick’s Day.

For example, the traditional commanders’ toast in the morning will take place at the home of the regiment at the Lexington Avenue Armory and at the task force headquarters in Djibouti, said New York Army National Guard Lt. Col. Padraic Lilly, the battalion’s rear detachment commander.

The troops in the parade will be joined by approximately 50 Veterans Corps and Regimental Headquarters representatives and some three dozen family members, Lilly said.

The marching Soldiers will wear their camouflage fatigue combat uniforms instead of dress uniforms as a tribute and recognition of those Soldiers deployed for missions in the Horn of Africa, Lilly said.

Army Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, the director of the Army National Guard, will also join the parade formation.

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day as part of the unit’s heritage, even while deployed, has motivated the task force Soldiers, Tabankin said.

“We’ve worked hard this year to accomplish our mission and take care of our Soldiers,” Tabankin said. “The 69th is as ready and lethal of an infantry battalion as it’s ever been.”

The 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, supposedly earned the nickname “Fighting 69th” from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. He is said to have referred to the Irish-American unit as “that fighting 69th regiment” following the battle of Fredericksburg in 1863.

The unit’s Soldiers have distinguished themselves in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and, since Sept. 11, 2001, deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Because of the regiment’s roots in Irish-American history, St. Patrick’s Day is also the 1st Battalion, 69th’s “Unit Day,” during which the battalion’s Soldiers are recognized for their accomplishments.

Traditions of the 69th and the St. Patrick’s Day parade include:

- Soldiers place a sprig of boxwood on their uniform because members of the Irish brigade put boxwood springs in their hat bands at the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, to mark their Irish heritage;
- Officers of the 69th carry a fighting stick made of blackthorn wood imported from Ireland because they are considered the mark of an Irish leader and gentleman;
- Soldiers are accompanied on their parade march by two Irish Wolfhounds, the official mascot of the 69th Infantry. The dogs represent the regimental motto, “gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked.” In the Horn of Africa, the deployed unit will be accompanied by military working dogs from a supporting Air Force unit;
- The battalion commander carries the “Kilmer Crucifix,” the religious icon once worn by poet Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in action serving in the 69th in World War I;
- The regiment’s officers start the day with a toast of Irish whiskey, this year in New York and Djibouti;
- Before the parade, the regiment attends a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to honor the regiment’s fallen and honor its Irish heritage;
- The city of New York provides a dedicated subway train to transport the Soldiers back down to the East Village for their unit day activities;
- When the Soldiers return from the parade and begin their unit day ceremonies, they are cheered by the battalion’s officers, who render honors and pay tribute to the enlisted Soldiers and noncommissioned officers.

“The day’s events reaffirm the presence that the 69th holds in the history of the United States and here in the state of New York,” Lilly said. “The heritage of the unit is unmatched anywhere in the armed forces of the U.S., and the accomplishments of the unit in conflicts from the Civil War to present day is acknowledged and duly honored by its place in the parade.”

“For us, it is a day where nearly every action taken is a nod to some portion of our long and storied history,” Tabankin said.