Celebrating our first generation of Veterans 230 years ago this month

Happy Veterans Day!

Today we celebrate the service of our nation’s veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made for the noble cause of democracy and freedom. In a few weeks’ time, however, a date will likely pass without much notice or fanfare, but will mark the 230th anniversary of an important date in our country’s incredible history.

Veterans Day 230 yearsThat date is November 25 and the year was 1783.  It marks the date that the British evacuated New York City (Manhattan to be specific) and ended seven years of occupation by the military forces of King George III, and a long and costly war for both sides of the conflict.  The Revolutionary War was over.  Ironically, the location of this event was just a few miles from Kips Bay, where in 1776, General George Washington had shouted in rage and despair at his retreating army … a rare moment of visible emotion for the commander in chief.

What a difference seven years can make.  On November 25, 1783, high noon was the time set for the official relinquishment of power between the British forces and the American military commanded by General George Washington and empowered by the Continental Congress … but that time ticked on by.  Finally, around 1:00 PM the British withdrew their troops from their last posts and the Americans marched in.  In the column of American troops was the Second Massachusetts Regiment, a single troop of dragoons, two artillery companies, and a battalion of light infantry … a small contingent compared to the vanquished forces of the British crown.

As the Americans took over, a parade formed, the new 13-stripe flag was unfurled, a 13-gun salute was prepared, bells rang from nearby churches and town buildings, and pride and excitement reigned throughout the city.  Throngs greeted the incoming troops and General Washington with shouts and tears of joy.

One woman later recalled in her diary the terribly moving scene, describing first the British troops and then the Americans:

“We had been accustomed for a long time to military display in all the finish and finery of garrison life. The troops just leaving us were as if equipped for show, and with their scarlet uniforms and burnished arms made a brilliant display. The troops that marched in, on the contrary, were ill-clad and weather- beaten, and made a forlorn appearance. But then, they were our troops, and as I looked at them and thought upon all they had done and suffered for us, my heart and my eyes were full, and I admired and glorified in them the more, because they were weather-beaten and forlorn.”

These “weather-beaten and forlorn” troops were, in fact, our first generation of veterans.  Like most veterans, I suppose, they had joined the “glorious cause” for a wide variety of reasons that hasn’t changed much over time:  Patriotism, adventure, loyalty, camaraderie, tradition, a sense community, a sense of service, a sense of belonging to a cause greater than themselves.