BOSTON, Mass. (Nov. 21, 2008) – Today the Massachusetts National Guard held a historic dual-purpose ceremony at the State House in Boston to reorganize the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and award campaign streamers to 38 Massachusetts Army and Air National Guard units for their selfless service in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.
Gov. Deval Patrick and Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, reorganized and redesignated the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment as the new 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment (Selected Honor Guard). The new 54th preserves the history of the Massachusetts National Guard and renders appropriate military honors at state functions and funeral services for veterans who have served in the military forces of the United States. The 54th has performed approximately 300 military funeral honors missions this year.
“The new 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment is a historic organization that represents the Massachusetts National Guard at ceremonies, honoring the heritage and lineage of our 372-year history, none more important than rendering military funeral honors to veterans,” said Col. Sterling Macleod, commander of the new unit.
While African-American Soldiers had previously served in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the 54th Regiment was the first African-American regiment organized during the Civil War. During its attack on Battery Wagner in 1863, nearly half the regiment was killed, wounded or captured. For his bravery in the battle, Sgt. William H. Carney became the first African-American to earn the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.
The 54th proved its mettle in battle through the gallantry and steadfastness of its men and, as a result, President Lincoln ordered the recruitment of some 180,000 more African-American Soldiers into the Union Army. The unit was mustered out service after the Civil War, and its colors retired.
The history of the 54th was the subject of the 1989 feature film “Glory.”
The governor opened the State house doors to receive 38 other Guard units, an honor reserved for incoming or outgoing governors, sitting U.S. presidents or heads of state, and Massachusetts units as they return from battle. The last time the State House doors were opened for a Massachusetts Guard unit was upon the return of the 211th Field Artillery from the Vietnam War.
Patrick affixed campaign streamers to the Guard units’ colors in the Hall of Flags, a place where all of our Massachusetts Soldiers and Airmen are honored and remembered. Built of Italian marble on an elaborate mosaic floor, the Hall of Flags is a monumental tribute to the Citizen Soldiers who have defended Massachusetts for over three hundred and seventy years. Images of the first flags of the American Revolution are displayed along with those carried by units in later battles.
“The 54th Regiment displayed tremendous courage during a period of great strife in American history,” said Patrick. “The men and women of today’s Massachusetts National Guard carry that proud tradition forward, bravely serving in areas of unrest around the world. Today’s ceremony is meant to honor their service and their sacrifice, and remind them all that the citizens of our commonwealth will always be grateful.”
Battle honors were first represented by inscribing the names of battles on the organizational color, or guidon, of the unit. Today, units display streamers on their colors representing service in military campaigns.
“Today, our Soldiers and Airmen have the proud distinction of being the first units to enter the State House through its front doors and being honored for their selfless service since the Massachusetts Army Guard's 211th Field Artillery returned from Vietnam. I am extremely proud of the men and women of the Massachusetts National Guard and honored to lead them and witness this moment in history,” said Carter.
Since its inception nearly 372 years ago, the Massachusetts National Guard has participated in every one of our nation’s conflicts and has steadfastly served the citizens of the commonwealth.