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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | March 13, 2024

NY National Guard to Lead Largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade

By Eric Durr, New York National Guard

NEW YORK - The Soldiers of the New York Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, will again lead the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade this year.

Since 1851, “The Fighting 69th” has been the lead unit in New York City’s annual parade marking Irish pride. The regiment was organized in 1849 as a New York State militia regiment made up of Irish immigrants.

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’s event, beginning at 11 a.m. March 16, will mark the 173rd time the 69th Infantry has led the parade.

” St. Patrick’s Day is integral to the history of the 69th Infantry Regiment,” said Lt. Col. Adam Bojarski, the battalion’s commander. “It is with tremendous pride that we will continue this time-honored and unbroken tradition this year.”

Bojarski said this year’s event also marks the battalion’s return from a deployment in 2003.

In 2023, most of the regiment’s Soldiers deployed in the Horn of Africa, providing security for U.S. military outposts in Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia.

That year, the battalion’s rear detachment of 150 marched in the New York City parade while the Soldiers stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti conducted their own parade there.

The battalion’s 800 Soldiers will be joined during the parade by the members of the 42nd Infantry Division Band and New York National Guard leaders.

“When we march this year, we honor all those members of the regiment who have come before us and served our nation, from the Civil War through World War I and World War II to the modern conflicts of today,” Bojarski said.

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 uniforms 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 it is considered the mark of an Irish leader and gentleman.

- The battalion’s officer joins the commander in the morning before the parade for an Irish whiskey toast.

- 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.”

- 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.

- 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.

- Just before the parade starts, the head of the parade committee asks the commander if the 69th is ready. The response is: “The 69th is always ready!’

- 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.