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275 years ago this week, Ben Franklin – then a recently retired printer beginning a political journey in which he would see (and help) a nation form – organized the first Pennsylvania military unit to defend the colony and the port of Philadelphia against Indian raiders and French privateers.
The Dec. 7, 1747, formation of The Associators (named after the articles of association which they signed) marks the beginning of today’s Pennsylvania National Guard. The Associators continue serving today as the 103rd Brigade Engineer Battalion and 111th Infantry Regiment.
The commonwealth is recognizing the historic anniversary this month, with a birthday observance held on Dec. 4 at Fort Indiantown Gap, as well as a proclamation issued by Governor Tom Wolf.
The observance was held at the Gap during a duty weekend so soldiers and airmen could attend. LebTown photographer Barb West was there to document the occasion.
The top 10 moments in Pennsylvania National Guard history
Provided by the Pennsylvania National Guard
- Pennsylvania National Guard is born – Overcoming the pacifist traditions of Pennsylvania’s founding Quakers, Benjamin Franklin leads about 600 “gentlemen and merchants” of Philadelphia in signing “articles of association” to provide for a common defense against Indian raiders and French privateers. These “Associators,” who are alive as today’s 103rd Brigade Engineer Battalion and 111th Infantry Regiment, held their first muster on Dec. 7, 1747.
- Escort for General Washington – The Philadelphia Light Horse, later known as First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry, escorts Gen. George Washington from Philadelphia to New York to take command of the Continental Army in late June 1775. The Army was established by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, and its first units include a regiment of rifle companies from Pennsylvania.
- Ten Crucial Days – Pennsylvania supplies thousands of troops during the Revolutionary War, and they take part in numerous campaigns, including Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 and the ensuing battles of Trenton and Princeton. The Associators infantry (today’s 111th Infantry Regiment) and artillery (today’s 103rd Brigade Engineer Battalion) assets play a major role in the fighting at Trenton and Princeton. Washington personally leads the Philadelphia Associator battalions in a counterattack that turns the tide of Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777. Many historians credit these “10 Crucial Days” with saving the American Revolution, and the Pennsylvania Militia played a critical role in that success.
- First Defenders of U.S. Capitol – At the start of the Civil War, five units from the Lehigh Valley race to the nation’s threatened capital in response to an urgent plea from Congress. President Abraham Lincoln proclaims them the “First Defenders,” an honor still borne by their descendants in today’s 213th Regional Support Group.
- Action in Gettysburg – More than 200 Pennsylvania regiments take part in the Civil War in 24 major campaigns. Among the battles is the Battle of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania on July 1-3, 1863 – a Union victory that many consider is the war’s turning point. Several current Pennsylvania National Guard units can trace their lineage to units that fought at Gettysburg, including the 103rd Brigade Engineer Battalion; 1-104th Cavalry Regiment; 1-107th Field Artillery Regiment; 1-108th Field Artillery Regiment; 1-109th Field Artillery Regiment; 1-111th Infantry Regiment; and 1-112th Infantry Regiment. Of note, the Philadelphia Brigade – today’s 111th Infantry Regiment – helped turn back the center of Pickett’s Charge at the angle on July 3, 1863.
- Formation of the Pennsylvania Division – On March 12, 1879, Gov. Henry Hoyt signs General Order Number One, establishing the Pennsylvania Division, the predecessor to today’s 28th Infantry Division. Maj. Gen. John Hartranft, a Civil War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, serves as the division’s first commander. In 1917, after it was federalized for World War I, the division is redesignated the 28th Division. Today, the 28th ID is the oldest continuously serving division in the U.S. Army.
- Men of Iron – The Pennsylvania Division is called up in the wake of America’s entry into World War I. The division takes part in six major campaigns in France and Belgium and suffers more than 14,000 casualties. On July 15, 1918, elements of the division (notably the 109th and 110th infantry regiments) beat back German attacks along the Marne River. Pockets of division soldiers were surrounded and cut off but fought at the company and platoon level in a ferocious defense of their positions, beating their way through German lines and back to secondary defensive positions. The 28th Division’s stalwart stand earns its soldiers the moniker “Men of Iron” from General of the Armies John Pershing, commander of the Allied Armies.
- March down Champs Elysees – In what would become one of the most iconic photos from World War II, Soldiers from the 28th Infantry Division triumphantly march down the Champs Elysees in Paris on Aug. 29, 1944, following the city’s liberation.
- Battle of the Bulge – In Late 1944, the 28th Infantry Division is instrumental in stalling the last German offensive of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge. The division’s exploits earn it the nickname the “Bloody Bucket” division.
- Tropical Storm Agnes – Nearly 13,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members are called up to help with relief operations following widespread flooding caused by Tropical Storm Agnes in June 1972. The storm and its aftermath results in 50 deaths and $3 billion in property damage across the state.
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