A HISTORY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
NATIONAL GUARD - PAST AND POST WAR
Soldiers of the D.C. Militia 260th Coastal Artillery at
Ft. Washington operating a disappearing gun
THE BLADENSBURG RACES
The fledging D.C. Militia was tested during the War of 1812.
Maryland and Virginia, pre-occupied with attacks on their own territory, were sluggish to send troops to D.C. The D.C. Militia, even when augmented by regular forces, was overwhelmed and ordered to withdraw. They watched the nation’s capital burn.
After this incident, Congress took notice and increased the size and equipage of the D.C. Guard.
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY AND THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
The war of 1812 would produce an American treasure and one of the most famous Veterans of the D.C. National Guard: Francis Scott Key.
Francis Scott Key was a Lieutenant with the Georgetown Artillery during the War of 1812. During the British bombardment of Baltimore Harbor, he asked and was allowed to be sent to Maryland to negotiate a prisoner exchange. After the negotiations, the ship’s commander felt he had seen too much and needed to stay on the ship through the rest of the attack. As he watched the flag fly above Fort McHenry, he wrote the poem that is now the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner—our national anthem.
THE CIVIL WAR
Maryland and Virginia were both slave states at the beginning of the war, surrounding Washington with potential enemy territory. Three days before the shots at Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called up the D.C. Militia to protect the capital, making it famous for being “the first man…first company…first regiment” called to duty for the Civil War.
The decision to fight to protect the Union was not unanimous, as three companies of D.C. Guardsmen fought for the Confederacy.
The D.C. National Guard saw an unfortunate first, when Private Manual C. Causten became the first Military Prisoner of War during the Civil War. D.C. National Guard Soldiers were on active duty for four years, fighting in the Battle of Manassas and the Valley campaign. They maintained their historical role as the Capital Guardians manning the forts which encircled Washington, D.C. At Fort Stevens, D.C. Soldiers included African-American Quartermaster clerks who were originally not allowed to join combat regiments. As D.C. faced attack from the Confederate army, they were issued rifles and told to defend their city. President Abraham Lincoln traveled to view the fighting, where he was pulled from harm’s way by a D.C. Guardsman. It would be the only time in history that a standing president would face enemy fire.
PATRIOTIC FERVOR IN THE POST-WAR YEARS
During the post-Civil War years, public support for the D.C. National Guard was at a new high. Encampments were held on the National Mall. Parades and marching competitions were popular spectator events. Our rifle team was nationally known. Ceremonial Marching Units, such as the Corcoran Cadet Corps, known for their snappy uniforms and precision drill, were popular forms of entertainment. John Phillip Sousa, the march king, composed two marches for D.C. Guard units.
PROTECTING OUR NATION’S BORDERS
From its earliest days, the D.C. National Guard remained ready to accept the call to protect our nation, participating in the Creek, Seminole and Mexican Wars. In 1898, the D.C. National Guard’s 1st Volunteer Infantry fought alongside the United States Volunteers during the Spanish-American War, where they earned credit for the Santiago Campaign.
The D.C. National Guard served with border patrols on the Southwest border in 1916 during the Pancho Villa raids, a mission similar to the one they would return to in the 21st century in support of Customs and Border Protection.
HOME FOR THE D.C. GUARD
For a brief time, there was an armory on the National Mall where the National Archives building now stands. This building was taken over to be used as a hospital during the Civil War. The D.C. National Guard rented spaces across the city for weekly drills throughout the 19th century. Some of these spaces included rooms above Central Market, The True Reformer Building on U Street N.W., in temporary buildings built for World War I war-workers on North Capitol Street and even the old National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Many felt that the D.C. Guard needed a permanent home, but the debate over how to fund such a building and where it would be built lingered for decades. During the 1930s, the fervor to build an Armory reached fever pitch. The D.C. National Guard armory came together after a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Land was donated by the department of the interior, and a plan was drawn up by the Works Progress Administration. The D.C. Armory was the largest building in the Department of Defense at the time it was built in 1943. During World War II, it housed the FBI fingerprinting bureau. The building has also held an important role in the community. Over time, there have been tractor pulls and horse competitions, circuses, car shows, boxing tournaments and Georgetown University has used the Armory for their basketball games.
From 1904-1976, the D.C. National Guard operated a training post in Southeast D.C. known as Camp Simms. At one point the camp was 168 acres, stretching from Alabama Avenue S.E. to the district line and had firing ranges, maintenance shops, and even a swimming pool.
With the birth of aviation, the D.C. National Guard established air fields at Bolling Field and later Andrews Field. These posts, now known as Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and Joint Base Andrews, still host D.C. National Guard facilities and units.
In 1980, the D.C. National Guard opened its Army aviation facility at Davison Army Airfield, D.C.’s first property on Fort Belvoir. Following the aviation facility was a new Regional Training Institute which opened on September 11, 2011.
The newest D.C.N.G property, a parcel of land from the District of Columbia’s Oak Hill reservation, in Laurel, Maryland, is the home of the Capital Guardian D.C. Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
THE NAVAL MILITIA
From 1898-1916 the Citizen Soldiers of the D.C. National Guard included Citizen Sailors in a Naval Battalion. The largest ship employed by the battalion was the 290-foot-long USS Puritan which was armed with four 12-inch guns. In 1915, the Naval Battalion established an aeronautical corps. The unit leveraged civilian experience to train aviators for the war overseas. The ships were returned to active naval service during World War I, and the battalion never reformed afterward. D.C. law still allows for the battalion to be reinstituted.
WORLD WAR I
Fearing espionage, the D.C. National Guard was recalled to active duty seventeen days before the U.S. officially entered WWI to protect reservoirs and power plants around the city. City officials felt that they could trust the D.C. Guard for this duty, knowing that the men were from the communities they would protect.
In 1917, The 1st Separate Regiment was mustered into service and renamed the 372d Infantry. The U.S. was unsure of what to do with an African-American regiment, so they were attached to the French army’s 157th “Red Hand” Division. The Soldiers fought in Meuse-Argonne, Lorraine and Alsace, where they were awarded the Croix de Guerre—one of the highest honors of the French Military. The unit was given the Red Hand name as an honor, which the 372nd Military Police Battalion still uses.
WORLD WAR II
When the U.S. entered World War II, the D.C. Guard mobilized immediately.
The D.C. National Guard was home to the headquarters of the famed 29th Infantry Division.
America depended heavily on the training and experience the National Guard possessed to form the backbone of a military rapidly filling with new recruits and draftees. National Guard units grouped together to train before going overseas to war. The D.C. National Guard’s 121st Combat Engineers was among the first units on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Other D.C.N.G. personnel fought in the Pacific theater.
In 1940, the 121st Observation Squadron was organized and began operations out of Bolling Field. At the end of the war, it was merged with the 121st Fighter Squadron, Single Engine, and the 352d Fighter Group, creating the lineage of the 113th Wing. The 113th Wing carries campaign credit from the Antisubmarine Campaign, the Po Valley Campaign, the North Apennines Campaign and the Rome-Arno Campaign.
THE COLD WAR ERA
At the end of WWII, the D.C. National Guard faced the enormous task of restructuring and retraining. The Cold War years marked a new relationship between the National Guard and active military. Fear that the United States might face an attack from the Soviets prompted high levels of readiness at home. National Guard units saw frequent deployments and activations during these years.
In 1947, the Air Force was designated as a separate branch of the military. The D.C. Air National Guard became a reality in 1950, when the 113th Wing received federal recognition.
In 1951, the D.C. Army National Guard’s 715th Truck Company became one of the few National Guard units to mobilize for the Korean War. They called their orderly room in Korea the Blair House after the President’s Guest House.
In 1961, the 113th Wing spent a year activated in support of the Berlin Crisis. In 1968, they were activated by President Lyndon Johnson in response to the Pueblo Crisis. The bulk of the unit was assigned to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Later, many of these Airmen deployed to the Vietnam Theater of Operations.
During the Vietnam War, the most notable thing about the National Guard was that it had been purposefully left out of the war. Fear that a National Guard call-up would prove unpopular kept most National Guardsmen out of the fight and would change the way that Americans viewed the Guard for years to come.
As part of the individual or “levied’ replacement program, Air National Guard pilots were allowed to deploy to Vietnam. The 113th Wing established a Replacement Training Unit to send F-100C Super Sabre pilots to the conflict. In 1968, Lieutenant Colonel Sherman Flanagan, a D.C. Guardsman, was shot down in Vietnam, one of the few National Guard casualties.
THE TOTAL FORCE POLICY
After the Vietnam War, congress mandated that all components of the military be treated as a total. The military was re-structured to make it impossible to go to war without the National Guard.
During the Persian Gulf War, seven D.C. Army and Air National Guard units were deployed. The 113th Wing also served a duty rotation for Operation Southern Watch, patrolling the no-fly zone mandated over Iraq at the end of the Persian Gulf War.
Two Army National Guard units, the 715th Public Affairs Team and the 273rd Military Police Company were called up for support during Operation Joint Endeavor, the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a duty officer from the 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, called a contact at the Secret Service to see if the attacks in New York had created any airspace restrictions. Moments later, the Secret Service called with instructions from the White House to get the F-16s in the air. The Pentagon had just been hit, and the White House knew another airliner—United Flight 93—had been hijacked.
After a call with the White House operations center, the 113th Wing commander issued a scramble order to set up a combat air patrol over D.C. and deter all aircraft within 20 miles with “whatever force is necessary… to keep from hitting a building downtown.”
As the first F-16 crew returned due to fuel, the next crew went out. There was no time to arm them with missiles, so each fighter went out with only 500 training bullets—just enough for a five-second burst. At the time, they believed that there may be more hostile aircraft. Each committed to doing whatever necessary to stop any hostile aircraft they encountered—up to and including ramming the airliner. By this point, fighters from Langley and the fighters from the D.C. National Guard were put in contact with each other. Flight 93 was no longer a threat, but the two units worked together to escort aircraft out of the airspace.
Meanwhile, with little more information than several people at the Pentagon were dead and several more injured, D.C. Army National Guard helicopter pilots were launched from Davison Army Airfield to the site of the attack on the Pentagon. They began ferrying casualties to Walter Reed and medical personnel back to the Pentagon.
In the days after September 11, 600 Soldiers from the D.C. Army National Guard were mobilized around the city, including the Capitol building. The Mobilization Augmentation Command reported to duty immediately, becoming the first National Guard unit mobilized for the Global War on Terror.
The support was only beginning on 9/11. D.C. National Guard Soldiers and Airmen served stateside providing security at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Joint Base Andrews and the Pentagon.
THE CAPITAL GUARDIANS
The D.C. National Guard is more than a reserve force for the active duty forces—it retains a mission as protector of the District of Columbia. The Capital Guardians have held their guard posts not only during times of war but have protected Americans in times of civil unrest and natural disaster.
During the 1960s, unprecedented numbers of Americans came to Washington to demonstrate. The D.C. National Guard was activated during several Vietnam War and Civil Rights demonstrations.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, riots broke out across the country. Over 1,800 D.C. National Guardsmen were called up to protect the city. Many of the Guardsmen left their own homes and families at risk.
The D.C. National Guard maintains the tradition of serving D.C., providing security for city and national events. The D.C. National Guard has proved to be a responsive, dependable force for more recent missions such as Independence Day celebrations on the National Mall, the Million Man March, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication and state funerals. Capital Guardians have served in times of natural disaster, deploying in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the blizzard of ’96, the “Snowpocalypse” blizzard of 2010, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and many other natural disasters.
GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR
The D.C. National Guard has deployed more than 1,200 Soldiers and Airmen to support the Global War on Terror. The D.C.N.G. completed over 90 whole-unit deployments, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Saudi Arabia and stateside missions as part of Noble Eagle. Many D.C. National Guard Soldiers and Airmen served multiple deployments.
Since September 11, 2001, the 113th Wing has provided twenty-four-hour protective coverage over the skies of our Nation’s Capital.
CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR
The District of Columbia National Guard has had many reach the highest levels of duty and service. Six of these Soldiers have been recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military honor.
Six members of the D.C. National Guard have served as mayor of the District of Columbia. Two of the six also served as Commanding General. Major General John Peter Van Ness was serving as a congressman from New York when he left his post to accept a commission from President Thomas Jefferson in the militia. He worked through the ranks, eventually becoming a Major General before returning to politics and serving as mayor.
Roger Weightman, another Guardsman, served as Mayor from 1824 to 1827 while serving at the same time as a Colonel in the D.C. Militia. He was later promoted to Commanding General in 1860 and led the D.C. Militia through the Civil War.
Colonel West A. Hamilton was a dedicated Soldier and community activist who served in the Mexican War, World War I and World War II. He was a commissioned officer in a time when African-American officers were a rarity. During his career, prejudices were common and no African American had been promoted to general officer. After his retirement in 1949, Colonel Hamilton focused his attention on helping others by actively participating in several civic and educational organizations in the District of Columbia. In 1951, he was appointed as a member of the D. C. Board of Education and participated in the formulation of policies to implement the desegregation of the public schools in D.C. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan honored him at the White House and gave him an honorary promotion to Brigadier General.
Benjamin O. Davis, the first African-American general officer in the Army, served in the D.C. National Guard before joining the active duty Army.
Frank Lackland served as a Private in the D.C. Militia from 1905 to 1911. He later became a Brigadier General in the Army Air Corps. Today, Lackland Air Force Base, the “Gateway to the Air Force,” is named after him.
Colonel Billy Millikan, a D.C. National Guard pilot, broke the west-to-east-coast transcontinental record in 1954 using a borrowed F-86F Sabre. His average speed was 615 m.p.h. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959 and assigned as 113th Wing Commander.
Cunningham C. Bryant, another D.C. Army National Guardsman, became the first African American federally recognized as a general officer in the National Guard in 1971. He served as D.C. National Guard Commanding General and was inducted into the Infantry Hall of Fame in 1981.
Russell C. Davis, a D.C. Air National Guard member and later D.C.N.G. Commanding General would become the first African-American Chief, National Guard Bureau.
COMMITMENT TO YOUTH
The D.C. National Guard has always served its community, but began to invest in Youth more directly in 1968 when the first Youth Leaders camp was held. In 1993, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program was created to give high school drop-outs another chance at success. The Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe program was recognized as an independent program in 2013.
Since 1989, the D.C. National Guard Counterdrug Program has been credited with assisting law enforcement agencies in the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal narcotics. They have also facilitated educational life-skill programs affecting thousands of at-risk citizens.
We are the Capital Guardians: Always Ready, Always Relevant!