The Depot

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part IV

Old comic book of the forming of the first militia

I will end this series as I started it in part one. In that first essay I wrote that history is written by the victors and like all human endeavors, history is influenced by bias. Amidst the social unrest in our society right now I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the National Guard’s lineage. As a nation, we have built monuments to men who established this nation, but we never really acknowledged their human failings and their behavior and attitude toward their fellow man, particularly people of color. That is starting to change as we come to terms with our violent, racist history.

What continues to puzzle me is why when a historically marginalized population asks that as a nation, we reconsider history, why do some people take offense to it? Why are some people resistant to embracing changes to our national narrative? Those same people argue that we are trying to rewrite history or that we are being politically correct. People who argue those points have history working in their favor, so naturally they do not want it to change.

Within the Department of Defense, I have been surprised at the outspokenness of some of our former and current military leaders who have stated that military bases named after confederate generals should be renamed. These military leaders are modern thinkers, receptive to ideas because they have operated in a professional world where merit is based on performance and not the color of a person’s skin. That’s not to say the military is free of racists. There’s racial bias.

That’s what makes the National Guard’s response to my queries troubling. I asked for a response from the chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB), Gen. Joseph Lengyel. I sent an e-mail to Wayne Hall, a media operations specialist for the National Guard Bureau. I wrote: “What are the chief's thoughts that the National Guard aligns its lineage and history to militias that were responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Pequot people?  Has NGB ever thought of apologizing to the tribe? Has NGB ever considered changing its founding date to reflect alignment with American militias and not English militias that committed human rights violations?”

If you are unfamiliar with the massacre at the Mystic River, English militias surrounded a Pequot village, set it on fire and when tribe members tried to flee the burning palisades, they were shot, including women and children.

This was Hall’s reply to my questions: “The historical documentation used to prove the continuous existence of the four Massachusetts units since 1636, which the National Guard cites as its official establishment, is on file is at U.S. Army Center for Military History….” He added that I could get more information from the U.S. Army Center of Military History concerning methodology about the lineage and honors process.

Suspecting he did not understand my questions, I replied to Hall.

“Thanks Wayne, but I'm asking direct questions to the chief of the NGB (or his appointed rep on this topic). Are you declining to answer the questions I am asking? … What I am looking for are responses from NGB about the guard's alignment with those militias, not the process. I'd appreciate your help.”

Hall never replied.

Based on the reaction, NGB is not ready for or open to historical reflection. Remember, in other essays in this series I wrote about evasive NGB historians. When I persisted with my queries that were going unanswered, they accused me of having an agenda and as one historian said, they were told to “disengage” me.

With the NGB door closed, I queried the Department of Defense media relations division. This is verbatim from my e-mail to the press desk.

“What are the thoughts of the Army's Center of Military History that the National Guard aligns its lineage and history to militias that were responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Pequot people? Has the US Army Center of Military History ever considered that they awarded lineage and honors to English militias that committed human rights violations? Now that we know this to be true, is there any consideration that the lineage could be revoked/rescinded? Why or why not? …”

The Pentagon replied with very long answers about the genesis of lineage and honors, citing a lot of regulations and orders. The comments bled into diatribes about the nationality of militias and then dates and names of units that earned lineage honors. The answers provided by Chief Historian Jon Hoffman of the U.S. Army Center of Military History did not answer my questions. But he did answer one worth mentioning here.

“The Center of Military History currently has no effort underway to evaluate the lineage and honors of units and determine whether the members of any particular unit might have been involved in a human rights violation,” Hoffman said. That response, of course, makes me ask, why not? Why isn’t the Center of Military History willing to re-examine its decision to align modern day National Guard units with English colonial militias that killed hundreds of Native Americans in a massacre? Who makes that decision? Remember what I wrote in the second paragraph of this essay? Hoffman’s remarks are disconcerting.

In part three of this series, I posited that the Florida National Guard might have been excluded from consideration as the “Nation’s First” militia because of their lineage with Spanish colonial militias. This is a point that Hoffman refutes because a Puerto Rican National Guard unit’s Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) includes Spanish symbols. He states because the DUI was created, the notion of Spanish Black Legend influencing NGB’s decision to crown the Massachusetts National Guard as the “Nation’s First” are not plausible. I believe that the existence of one, does not negate the existence of the other.  

If Hoffman’s argument was really true, then I could proclaim that because we had the Tuskegee Airmen there is no racism in the military. It’s a silly assertion. Think about what Colin Powell experienced, or Carl Brashear.

Some historians at NGB opined that the decision to align with English militias was made by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, not NGB, but that’s partially true. Army units submit documents to the Center supporting their positions and the Center reviews them for approval and then grants lineage and honors if everything is in order, but the entire process starts with a historian.

I asked several NGB historians who the NGB historian was that petitioned the U.S. Army Center of Military History for lineage honors connecting the English to the American modern National Guard. I never got an answer.

What I do know is that the chief of the NGB in 1956 was Maj. Gen. Edgar C. Erickson, a man who had fought against Pancho Villa. Did he have implicit bias? Did Spanish Black Legend influence him? I can’t answer that question. I know that men that I interviewed for an article about World War II that I was writing had not just bias, but malice for those they fought. When I pulled up in my Toyota truck, they were disgusted with me for buying something made by the Japanese. Not all who fought against the Japanese in World War II are like this, but the fact is, some people harbor dark feelings about those they’ve fought against.

Something important to note about Erickson is that he was born, raised and died in Massachusetts. He served in the Massachusetts state legislature and he was also the commander of the 181st Infantry Regiment, one of the four Massachusetts National Guard units considered to be the “Nation’s First.” That’s a big coincidence. Did Erickson influence the decision, push for Massachusetts to get tagged as the “Nation’s First” or was he biased towards his state and his former unit? It’s speculative. But given the lack of granular response by the NGB and the U.S. Army Center of Military History, there’s enough doubt surrounding the National Guard’s lineage to ask it to take a close look at itself. Remember, I asked NGB historians if they had ever traveled to Florida to take a look at Spanish militia documentation and like other questions, they ignored it.

And let me state clearly that I'm not advocating for Spanish Militias to be considered the first. I'm merely saying that decisions of the past can be clouded by bias.

Charles R. Bowery, Jr., the executive director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History said a couple of years ago “…that history should not be a bedtime story. Professional soldiers and our civilian leadership have an obligation to interrogate our past, ESPECIALLY the darkest corners, in order to improve ourselves.”

I agree with his bold statement and that’s been the point of this entire series, to encourage our military leaders to look at whether or not they want to align themselves with a dark history. The militias that the National Guard claims as its heritage were responsible for the first European massacre of Native Americans. Those English colonial militias are honored and celebrated as part of the National Guard’s legacy, and they killed women and children. Survivors were enslaved by the militias. Why is this issue not getting a second look? Why isn’t someone in the Defense Department, U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Guard Bureau not asking themselves, is this really the heritage we want to embrace? Why isn’t anyone interrogating the past, as Bowery states?

On June 23, 2020, via Twitter, Bowery shared photos from Gettysburg, in front of a memorial to Pops Greene, a Union general who fought on Culp’s Hill. In the post he writes “Pops Greene, defender of Culp’s Hill, says that one! Take that *^%# Confederate memorial down! And the rest of them too!” After a few likes and comments, Bowery added to the thread. “And while you’re at it, change the post names and stop giving units lineage to the Confederate Army.”

A few days later, on July 2, 2020, he posted on Twitter “I’m here to remind Army leaders at all levels that @USArmy history and heritage are enablers of inspired, resilient, critically-thinking soldiers. You should be reinforcing the Army’s historical diversity, but also its challenges with racism and discrimination, with your soldiers.”

I tweeted at Bowery and asked him his thoughts about the Guard’s lineage. He never replied.

As of this writing, there are publications and comic books that depict the Pequot tribe as the aggressors in the decades long war with the English colonies. We know that history is a false narrative. The Pequot were trying to maintain their tradelines and defending against constant English expansion. NGB has these documents listed on their website as “Historical Publications.”

Let me wrap this up by saying that I served in the National Guard and I’ve served alongside of the National Guard. I’ve been with them during national disasters all over the United States and during the war in Iraq. They are a wonderful group of professionals.

I interviewed National Guard helicopter pilots after Hurricane Katrina. They were flying seemingly non-stop humanitarian aid and rescue missions knowing that their own homes were destroyed. I rolled into Gulf coast towns with National Guard engineers moving slowly into devastated neighborhoods and people came out of their homes crying, thankful to see them. On my first convoy in Iraq, the lead gunner wore a patch from a National Guard unit. 

My series is not an attack on the men and women of the National Guard. Read the body of my work over the course of my military writing career and you will find that I’m a friend of the National Guard and everything they do for their communities, states and for the nation. I’m just not a friend of obstructive bureaucrats.

Our Guard members deserve a better heritage than what they’ve been given.

Comments on this post ( 0 )

Leave a comment