Parading the Colors
Sons of Erin
Saint Patrick's Day, New York City, 17 March 2012: The color guard of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, New York Army National Guard, marches in the city's annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade. This storied regiment originated as one of three Irish units of the New York State Militia, recruited from the Irish immigrant population of New York. During the Civil War it was numbered as the 69th Regiment of Infantry, New York State Volunteers and was one of three regiments forming the Army of the Potomac's Irish Brigade. The 69th gained imperishable fame in the Civil War, particularly at Fredericksburg where its gallant but unsuccessful attempt to storm the Confederate position on Mayre's Height (13 December 1862) inspired General George Pickett to write to his fiancé: "Your soldier's heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to their death. The brilliant assault on Marye's Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. Why, my darling, we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines."
During the First World War, when National Guard infantry regiments received 100-series numbers, the Fighting 69th became the 165th Infantry. As part of the 42nd Division—the Rainbow Division as it was called from the design of its shoulder sleeve insignia—the 165th fought with great distinction in the Western Front battles of 1918. In the Second World War the regiment served in the Pacific as a unit of the 27th Infantry Division, again with great distinction. In 1993 it was reorganized as the 1st Battalion, 69th Air Defense Artillery Regiment but after numerous protests from current and former members it was converted back to an infantry battalion, becoming the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry. As such it was called in to federal service immediately after 9/11, responding to the Ground Zero site, sending troops to provide security for the US Military Academy, West Point, and later being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today the Fighting 69th's home station is still its historic Manhattan armory and though the battalion’s composition is quite diverse the traditional link to Ireland remains strong. Anyone who serves in the 69th is deemed an honorary Irishman and the battalion parades every year on Saint Patrick’s Day. Here the color guard of the Fighting 69th bears the National Color, the US Army Flag, the flag of New York State and the Organizational Color of the regiment with a garland of shamrocks to mark the occasion.