New York National Guard troops to lead NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade for 168th time

The Soldiers of the "Fighting 69th" and the 42nd Division Band will be first elements in the world's largest St. Patrick's Day Parade

Related Media

NEW YORK (03/13/2019) For the 168th time Saturday, March 16, the New York Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry-the famous "Fighting 69th-will lead the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade.

The 69th Infantry was originally organized as a militia unit for Irish immigrants in New York City. Because of fears that anti-immigrant groups would attack the Irish Catholic parade, the 69th was asked to lead parade in 1851 to fend off attackers.

Every year since then the 69th Infantry has been the parade's first march unit.

The unit was nicknamed "The Fighting 69th" because of a remark supposdely made by Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg in 1863. While discussing the Union Army attack on his position with his officers, Lee reportedly refered to that "fighthing 69th Regiment" which had come closest to the Confederate entrenchments before being stopped by withering fire.

The unit's Soldiers have distinguished themselves in World War I, World War II, and deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.

Because of the regiment's roots in Irish-American history St. Patrick's Day is also the 1st Battalion, 69th's "Unit Day," during which the battalion's Soldiers are recognized for their accomplishments.

The thirty members of the 42nd Infantry Division "Rainbow" Band will also be part of the parade. They will be joined by members of the New York Guard Band. The New York Guard is the state's volunteer, non-federal emergency response force.

The regiment, renamed as the 165th Infantry for federal service in WWI, served in Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne at Château-Thierry, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne.

The 1st Battalion 69th Infantry is the subject of the Irish folk song "The Fighting 69th" and the 1940 movie of the same name starring Pat O'Brien and Jimmy Cagney.

A host of traditions surround the 69th and the St. Patrick's Day Parade. These include:

• Soldiers placing a sprig of boxwood on their uniform because members of the Irish brigade put boxwood springs in their hat bands at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862 to mark their Irish heritage;

• Officers of the 69th carry a fighting stick made of blackthorn wood imported from Ireland because they are considered the mark of an Irish leader and gentleman;

• Soldiers are accompanied on their parade march by two Irish Wolfhounds, the official mascot of the 69th Infantry. The dogs are representative of the regimental motto, "gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked";

• The battalion commander carries the "Kilmer Crucifix," the religious icon once worn by poet Joyce Kilmer --the author of the poem "Trees"-- who was killed in action serving in the 69th in World War I. It is handed down from battalion commander to battalion commander;

• The regiment's officers start the day with a toast of Irish whiskey;

• The regiment attends a special Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral to honor the regiments fallen and honor its Irish heritage prior to the parade.

• The City of New York provides a dedicated subway train to transport the Soldiers back down to the East Village for their unit day activities;

• When the Soldiers return from the parade and begin their unit day ceremonies, they are cheered by the battalion's officers who render honors and pay tribute to the enlisted Soldiers and Non-Commissioned Officers.