New York National Guard honors President Martin Van Buren in Kinderhook on Tuesday Dec. 5

Media Advisory

KINDERHOOK, NEW YORK (12/04/2023) (readMedia)-- New York Army National Guard Major General Michel Natali will mark the 241st birthday of President Martin Van Buren on Tuesday, December 5, by laying a wreath from the White House at the eighth president's grave in Kinderhook.

The laying of a wreath from President Joe Biden is part of a ceremony recognizing Van Buren, which includes the National Park Service, town and village officials, and Friends of Lindenwald, a volunteer group that supports the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site.

WHO: Major General Michel Natali, assistant adjutant general, Army for the New York National Guard; New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major Edwin Garris; and New York Army National Guard Soldiers who will form an honor cordon and provide a color guard.

WHAT: Annual recognition of President Martin Van Buren, a Kinderhook native who died on July 24, 1862, in Kinderhook. He was born on December 5, 1782. Natali will present the presidential wreath. Taps will be played during the wreath laying.

Since the Johnson Administration, military officers have laid a wreath from the sitting president at the graves of former presidents on their birthdays.

WHEN: 11 a.m. Tuesday, December 5.

WHERE: Kinderhook Cemetery, County Route 21, Kinderhook, New York.

Coverage Opportunities:

Images of the wreath-laying ceremony, the military color guard, and troops in formation. There will be opportunities to interview ceremony participants.


The United States military honors former presidents by laying wreaths presented by the current president at their gravesites on the anniversary of their birth. The wreath layings were first directed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the mid-1960s and have continued since then.

The New York Army and Air National Guard headquarters traditionally conduct the wreath presentations at the graves of President Chester A. Arthur in Menands and President Martin Van Buren in Kinderhook. The New York Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing in Niagara Falls honors President Millard Fillmore.

Martin Van Buren:

Van Buren was the first president born as an American citizen rather than a subject of the King of England. He is also the only president not to have spoken English as his first language, having grown up speaking Dutch, and the first president from New York.

A historical marker on Kinderhook's Hudson Street indicates the site of the Van Buren family tavern, where the president-to-be was born in 1782. He is buried in the family plot at the Kinderhook Reformed Cemetery.

Before running for president in 1836, Van Buren, a lawyer, served as a New York state Senator, attorney general, and governor of New York before becoming Secretary of State for President Andrew Jackson. Van Buren was elected as Jackson's vice president during Jackson's second term of office.

Shortly after taking office in 1837, an economic downturn known as the Panic of 1837 hit. Businesses closed, people lost their jobs, and the agricultural economy took a hit.

Van Buren ran for re-election in 1840 but was defeated by William Henry Harrison. He sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844 but lost to James K. Polk.

In 1848, he was the unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Free-Soil Party, a group opposing an extension of slavery. That defeat marked the end of his political career.

Van Buren, known as Old Kinderhook because of his hometown, supposedly gave the English language the term OK. During his run for office, OK clubs were organized to support him. He also initialed papers with the letters OK to indicate he approved.

The two letters became another way to say something was good if it was OK.

He was considered a shrewd politician and used patronage and connections to make the Democratic Party a national party based on limited federal government and opposition to federal spending on internal improvements.

He was nicknamed the Red Fox of Kinderhook and the Little Magician because of his political acumen.

Eventually, he turned against slavery, opposing the entry of Texas into the Union during his term in office because he feared another slave state would destroy the delicate balance between slave and free states.

He died during the Civil War when the conflict over slavery he sought to avoid could not be contained.

Major General Michel Natali:

A Watertown native, Natali was commissioned into the Army in 1987 as a military intelligence officer. He served on active duty with the United States Army Europe in Germany and then with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. While assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, he deployed to Haiti and Somalia.

He joined the New York Army National Guard in 1996 and has served in a number of military intelligence and command positions. He deployed to Iraq with the 42nd Infantry Division in 2004-2005 as deputy intelligence officer.

He has served as the commander of the 53rd Troop Command, Deputy Commanding General for National Guard Affairs at the United States Army Cyber Center of Excellence, commander of the New York Counterdrug Task Force, and Dual-Status Commander – commanding both active duty and National Guard forces -during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

In civilian life, Natali was a New York State Police member and retired as an investigator.

Natali holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Norwich University, a master's in public administration from Marist College, and a master's in strategic studies from the United States Army War College.