Notable Guardians

The service of every District of Columbia National Guard Soldier and Airman is of great value, yet some in our ranks have led the way for others to serve. The D.C. National Guard has a proud tradition of breaking barriers, setting new precedents and developing individuals who have served in the finest traditions of the National Guard and Department of Defense. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, is undoubtedly one of the most famous members of the D.C. National Guard. Men like West Hamilton, Cunningham C. Bryan, Benjamin O. Davis, and Russel C. Davis broke barriers of perception, while Milly Millikan broke physical barriers. These Guardsmen exemplify the D.C. National Guard tradition of excellence.

​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.​​​ ​​​​
Mayoral Service
Six members of the D.C. National Guard have served as Mayor and one as Governor of the District of Columbia. Two of the six also served as Commanding General.

  • Roger C. Weightman, Mayor from 1824 to 1827, served concurrently as a Colonel of the Militia.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1830, and, in 1860, upon promotion to Major General, served as Commanding General of the Militia. Weightman rose from a job as a penniless printer to be a prominent businessman and banker.
  • John P. VanNess, Mayor from 1830 to 1834, joined the Militia in 1808.  He was appointed and served as Major General Commanding of the D.C. Militia from 1811 to 1815.
  • William A. Bradley, Mayor from 1834 to 1836, was, concurrently, a Colonel in the Militia.
  • Peter Force, Mayor from 1836 to 1840, was, concurrently, a Colonel in the Militia, and later, in 1860, was promoted to Brigadier General.  Earlier, in 1824, Force founded and served as first commander of the Columbia Artillery.
  • William W. Seaton, Mayor from 1840 to 1850, was, concurrently, a Colonel in the Militia.
  • Walter Lenox, Mayor from 1850 to 1852, was, concurrently, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Militia.
  • Alexander R. Shepard, Governor from 1870 to 1872, when the District of Columbia was organized under a Territorial form of government, had, circa 1861, served as a Private in the National Rifles of the DC Militia, and fought with that unit at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Conspicuous Capital Guardians
  • John Mason, son of George Mason, a Founding Father of the United States, Mason was the first commanding general of the D.C. Militia, appointed personally by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802.
  • Francis Scott Key was a lieutenant with the Georgetown Field Artillery of the D.C. Militia. During the British bombardment in Baltimore Barbour, he wrote the poem that is now the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner—our national anthem.
  • 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. 
  • Albert Lyman Cox was a College Football All-Southern Team end for the North Carolina Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina. He was elected as a Democrat in the North Carolina House of Representatives and in 1916, Cox was appointed North Carolina state superior judge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • William H. Abendroth served as Chief of the Army Division (now Director of the Army National Guard) at the National Guard Bureau from 1951 to 1955.
  • Billy Millikan, a D.C. Air 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. 
  • Charles L. Southward served as the Chief of the Army Division (now Director of the Army National Guard) at the National Guard Bureau from 1964 to 1967.
  • 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 was the first African-American to serve as National Guard Bureau Chief and at the time of his retirement, Davis was the last member of the U.S. Air Force Aviation Cadet program to still be serving on active duty in the U.S. Air Force.
  • David F. Wherley Jr. At the time of the September 11 attacks in 2001, Wherley was commander of 113th Wing, the Guard unit responsible for protecting Washington, D.C. That morning, Wherley ordered his pilots, who did not launch until after the Pentagon attack, to operate weapons free, meaning that they were permitted to shoot at will.