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New York National Guard Recognizes 100th Anniversary Of U.S. Entry Into World War I

The New York National Guard was one of the earliest units to lend its support to the U.S. Army during World War I. Earlier today, a ceremony at the New York National Guard base in Latham marked the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the conflict.

The United States entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. Although the war had been going on for years before, the country had taken an isolationist stance.

At a ceremony recognizing the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry, New York National Guard Director of Joint Staff Brigadier General Patrick Center explained at the time, the army needed more soldiers.

“The regular army of the United States was incredibly small. There was only 100,000 regular soldiers who were scattered across the country and also stationed in Panama, the Phillipine Islands, and Puerto Rico. The National Defense Act of 1916 specified that the Naitonal Guard was the reserve component the United States Army. Now the National Guard would prove that it could do the jobs,” said Center.

With 26,000 members, Center explained, the New York National Guard was the country’s largest. And when the army needed more soldiers, the Guard was called up.

“More than 17,000 New York National Guard soldiers had spent 1916 along the Mexico border. Many of them now turned around and went to war in Europe,” said Center.

Members of the New York National Guard’s 69th infantry regiment served with the army’s 42nd Infantry Division, nicknamed the Rainbow Division because it included National Guard units from across the country.

New York’s 15th infantry, the African American regiment, became the famous 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The Hellfighters fought Germany under French Command and they were sent in such a rush, they carried their 15th New York Regiment flag into battle because the official army colors hadn’t arrived yet. Among the soldiers was war hero Henry Johnson, a one-time Albany resident posthumously recognized with the Medal of Honor in 2015.

Members of New York’s First Aero Squadron served in the new U.S. Army Air Service.

The National Guardsmen were among the 518,000 New Yorkers who served in the military in The Great War. Of those more than 13,000 died. The ceremony honored the soldiers with taps and a colorguard dressed in the “doughboy” uniform of the era.

Staff Sergeant Thomas Garbarini was one of four dressed in the khaki wool uniform.

“It’s got insignia buttons along the front, plenty of pockets for storing critical items and I think most significantly is the wrappings that go along the shin. That is not something the typical soldier wears today,” said Garbarini.

But in addition to leading the way in sending troops to the war effort, New York at the time was also leading the way in giving women the right to vote. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul touched on this history at the ceremony.

“As you know, we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of women in the state of New York securing the right to vote literally three years before the rest of the nation. But when President Woodrow Wilson went to Congress to talk about this war in September of 1918, he talked about the need for women to be able to vote because they were so involved in World War I,” said Hochul.

Today Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office marked the occasion with the launch of a new World War I Centennial website. Commemorations were held at historic sites and museums across the state.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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