ARLINGTON, VA — National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 108th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Utica, visited the graves of New York National Guard Soldiers interred at Arlington National Cemetery during a break from their security mission in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, February 14.
The New York National Guard deployed more than 530 Soldiers, many of them from the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, to Washington as part of a security force which will remain on duty until mid-March.
On a day off, Command Sgt. Major Daniel Markle, the battalion’s senior enlisted leader, took 30 junior soldiers to the national cemetery as part of their military education. “I feel it’s extremely important for them to have that connection to their history because the names of the soldiers don’t change, their character doesn’t change, just the technology does,” Markle explained.
The group visited the graves of soldiers from World War I and World War II. Along with visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Gravesites visited by the group included those of:
Sgt. Henry Johnson, an African-American Soldier from Albany who fought with the 369th Infantry Regiment — the Harlem Hellfighters — during World War I. He was one of the first American heroes of the war and died in 1929. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015;
Maj. Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the commander of the 69th Infantry Regiment from New York who earned the Medal of Honor during World War I and led the Office of Strategic Services , the predecessor of the CIA, during World War II and died in 1959;
Sgt. Alan Eggers , a member of the 107th Infantry Regiment from Saranac Lake, who earned the Medal of Honor during world War I and died in 1968;
Private Bernard Gavrin, a Brooklyn resident who served in the 105th Infantry Regiment during the Battle of Saipan during World War II. Gavrin went missing between June 15 and July 9, 1944. His remains were discovered in 2006, and he was interred in 2014.
At each site, one of the Soldiers outlined the history of the individual and the role they had played in these conflicts.
“My favorite part [of the visit] was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” said Spc. Cyrille Tchonga Nouka, an infantryman with Bravo Company and a Plattsburgh resident.
“Being next to the tomb and seeing the ceremony, that was really huge for me,” he said. Learning about the history of the Army and its Soldiers is especially beneficial for Soldiers like him, because he is a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Cameroon in Central Africa, Nouka said.
“It’s important to me because today I’m a member of the team, and learning the history encourages me and empowers me to be the best in my service to the Army,” he said. “I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
Spc. Rory Endsley, a member of Bravo Company from Pulaski, discussed the history of Donovan.
“It was an eye-opener to see some of the things that these people did,” Endsley said. “To see the hardships they endured and when we’re out in the field, and we feel like we’re struggling, to look back at these people and see how they felt and the conditions they were in.”