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National Guard’s Heritage Honored at Storied Army Base

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Erich B. Smith,
  • National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – In a hallowed corner of Patton Hall at Northern Virginia’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, a journey through the annals of American military history awaits. An officer’s saber from the late 19th century, a World War I-era combat helmet, and a flag that bore witness to the attack on Pearl Harbor stand as sentinels to a remarkable legacy. 

Welcome to The 1636 Room, a treasure trove of nearly 200 unique artifacts curated by the National Guard’s 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia. It’s a living tribute to the nation’s oldest military organization. 

For Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, the room honors the Guard’s heritage and its legacy of “courage, duty, honor and service.”

“The 1636 Room is a tribute to that tradition, a commemoration of a force unlike any other — one that continues to have an impact as 20% of the Joint Force and continues to shape the course of history,” Hokanson said during the ceremony unveiling the exhibit Nov. 1. 

The idea for The 1636 Room originated late last year when Hokanson asked the National Guard Bureau History Office to develop a plan for a heritage space where Guard members could gather for events and social occasions and for others to learn more about the force. 

By spring, he signed off on the history office’s recommendation that Patton Hall would be the ideal spot, said Richard Clark, NGB chief historian.  

“It is centrally located, and it has a rich history of its own,” he added, noting the 3rd U.S. Regiment, as “the oldest regiment in the Army, has a room at Patton Hall, and it seemed appropriate for the oldest U.S. military organization to have a place there as well.”

Honoring the roots of today’s National Guard, the exhibit space is named in tribute to the 1636 Massachusetts Bay Colony militia and boasts an extensive array of strategically positioned artifacts that include framed flags, panel displays, photographs, visual artworks, and replicas. Clark explained each item encapsulates the essence of unique events, remarkable achievements, unit emblems, and historic missions undertaken by different Guard elements.

Army Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, adjutant general of Virginia, said the series of framed pictures showcasing Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division from its beginnings in World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom was a fitting contribution to the room.

“For us on the Virginia side, we carry heavy within the 29th,” said Ring, who attended the ceremony along with nearly 150 senior Guard leaders.

While the photographs are significant for Virginia Guard members, Ring said the room’s spirit can resonate with all Soldiers and Airmen.

“This is a chance for all of us to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Citizen-Soldier and Airman tradition of those that came before us,” he said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be here today.”

However, Clark emphasized the room’s purpose extends beyond showcasing history.

“History tells us what happened, but heritage is the value we ascribe to that history,” he said.

Clark highlighted a canteen, cup and mess kit engraved by Soldiers from New Mexico National Guard’s 200th Coast Artillery during World War II. These very Soldiers later endured the harrowing Bataan Death March, followed by internment in POW camps.

“Those are the facts — the history. The heritage is the pride, the trauma and the ‘debt of honor’ New Mexicans feel they owe the men of that unit,” said Clark. 

The artifacts, he added, represent unmatched valor and immense suffering. Only about half of the roughly 1,800 Soldiers from New Mexico who fought in the Pacific Theater returned at the war’s end.

“New Mexico National Guard sent a piece of itself to put in this room,” he said.

The history office will continue to update the room as it receives more items that represent different aspects of Guard heritage.

“As the National Guard evolves, the room will evolve with it,” said Clark, adding the room “is not a static display. It’s a dynamic space that evolves as states swap out artifacts, and as additional states and territories and District of Columbia identify their contributions.”

In his closing remarks, Hokanson said the room — with the intent and purpose of honoring Guard heritage with unique items from the past — is only the beginning.

“These items are not only part of our history — they are part of our ongoing story,” he said.