More than 100 uniformed National Guardsmen and women, members of Veteran’s organizations and civilian onlookers braved the heavy snow and fierce winds Saturday morning to mark the 380th Anniversary of the first military muster in the United States in the very birthplace of the National Guard — Salem.
Soldiers and senior leaders of the Massachusetts National Guard, Veteran’s organizations, military re-enactors and living history groups were on hand to lend an authentic and solemn air to the event.
The first muster —or military drill — took place in Salem Common in 1637, the year after the National Guard was formed. Saturday’s event was a yearly celebration commemorating significant moments in the history of the Massachusetts National Guard as well as the origin of the Army National Guard.
In January 2013, President Barak Obama signed legislation initiated by Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney designating Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard.
Sponsored by the Second Corps Cadets Veterans Association, this 380th milestone anniversary kicked off at 9:30 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and at the nearby gravesite of Captain Stephen Abbott, founder and first commander of the Second Corps. All stood as a single trumpet played a plaintive “Taps” in the acoustically splendid church. Each note seemed to hover weightless above the pews.
Chief of the Guard Bureau, 4-star General Joseph Lengyel, was this year’s guest of honor. He addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Church before venturing outside to lay the wreath and lead the procession. “It’s good to be home,” the Peabody native declared. “I am proud of who we are and what we mean to this country. I am proud of all these people — doctors, lawyers, store owners, teachers, policemen and women — who have committed to keeping our country safe abroad and at home.”
Lengyel serves as the 28th chief of the National Guard Bureau and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is a military adviser to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council.
Captain Phillip Jenkins, Battery Commander C Battery 1/101 Field Artillery, followed, raising a chuckle when he said, “This is the first time you’ll see a Captain following a 4-star General.” He gave a brief but informative history of the National Guard and what the term “citizen soldier” means, also praising the Second Corps Cadet Veterans Association for “maintaining camaraderie and service to fellow soldiers.”
Colonel Cheryl Poppe, a Salem resident, looks forward to Salem First Muster every year. She retired from the Massachusetts National Guard in 2008 and is now Superintendent of Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, where she oversees 136 long-term care and 194 dormitory residents. “I am delighted to see the press here and to see how many intrepid residents and members of the Second Corps ventured out on this snowy day,” she said, adding, “I am very proud to have been part of this. There is a lot of benevolent work here.”
Captain Jim Sweet, who joined the National Guard in 1977 and was battery commander of the 102nd battalion, rang the St. Peter’s Church bell, the same one that has rung after the death of every United States President since George Washington. A gift from King George to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the original bell arrived in Salem in1733 and was replaced in 1740. “Salem was at the seat of government during the Revolutionary War,” he reminded the crowd.
After a ceremony at Armory Park on Essex Street, participants marched to the Salem Common, where troops on horse back, some wearing vintage uniforms, re-enacted the first muster with: formations of troops, presentation of honors, inspection of troops, honors to the nation and remarks from Governor Charlie Baker, General Joseph L. Lengyel and Major General Gary W. Keefe. Tents billowed in the gusts that sent wind chill factors below freezing and caused a smaller turnout than in 2016. For those who stuck it out, there was the promise of a late-morning cannon salute.
One such resolute fan was Jerry Schmitt of Salem, who looked at his heavy coat, boots and gloves and laughed remembering last year’s commemoration in almost 70-degree weather. Although he never served in the National Guard, he tries to attend the Salem First Muster every year. “I’m just here to support the troops,” he said.