Parade field becomes consecrated ground
By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (September 14, 2013) – “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Thus Major General Emmitt Titshaw Jr., Adjutant General of Florida, began the ceremony to recognize 448 years of Citizen-Soldier muster and consecrate the St. Francis Barracks parade field at the Florida National Guard Headquarters.
For more than two years soil has been collected from 19 battlefield locations around the world where present day Florida National Guard and its militia predecessors served and fought. Most of the soil came easily and freely being collected by military and embassy personnel. The soil from Kuwait made the trip three times before finally finding its new home here.
The idea came from Senior Army Advisor Col. Dave Rodgers who saw a similar ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga. Rodgers met and discussed the idea with Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr., and retired Lt. Col Greg Moore, Command Historian for the Florida National Guard. Titshaw gave his approval in 2011 and the daunting task began.
Soil from the 19 locations was spread from mess tins in memory of those who served. “Many of you in the audience today,” said Moore, “have probably seen the classic Steven Spielberg movie ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and remember the scene shortly after the last German bunker was secured on Omaha Beach where Technical Sergeant Mike Horvath, played by Tom Sizemore, gathers dirt and places it in a ration tin labeled ‘France.’” “He then shoves it in a satchel with two other tins labeled ‘Italy’ and ‘Africa.’ Sergeant Horvath, like many of his fellow soldiers, wanted to bring back something tangible to remind him of the hard-fought battles he was a part of in three different countries.”
Connecting the locations together builds quite an itinerary. Moore gave the following locations during the ceremony.
Begin at the grounds of the present day Fountain of Youth, site of the first militia muster on the North American continent, to the Kanapaha Prairie in mid-Florida during the Seminole Wars. Then after a scant two year rest take a quick jaunt to Vera Cruz, Guadeloupe, and Puebla, Mexico during the Mexican War. The first, but hardly the last time members of the Florida National Guard served outside of the State of Florida.
Switching uniforms to the Confederate States of America travel to Gettysburg, the west bank of Chickamauga Creek, Olustee, and Cold Creek.
Advance forward to 1918 and the First World War, travel to Camp Pontanezen, near Le Mans, France.
Pack your gear, travel to various locations in the continental United States followed by a cruise to western New Guinea in the summer of 1944. From July 10 to August 25, 1944, call the area of the Driniumor River your home. Take a journey to Morotai, a small island in the former Netherlands East Indies. Remember to travel to Mindanao Island in the Philippine Archipelago.
Beginning in August, 1951 deploy to Misawa Air Base in Japan and spend time flying over the landscape of North Korea.
In late 1990, arrive in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and travel to two locations in the United Arab Emirates and one in Oman.
After the fall of the Twin Towers, arrive at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. Spend ten months walking the streets of Baghdad, Iraq with occasional side trips over the border to Jordan.
Find locations such as Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Afghanistan on your itinerary. These are mandatory stops.
While touring those areas, remember Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Witness the last troops leaving Taji at the end of the Iraq war.
There is nothing whimsical meant about the itinerary above. The deployments were real. The citizen-soldiers, men and women, paid a dear price for their desire to serve their country. Some paid with their lives, others paid in a myriad of ways. Always remember, “For those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.”
Many of the participants left St. Augustine following the 448th muster event to pay last respects to a fallen comrade at Camp Blanding.
When passing the parade field, take a moment to reflect on these deployments, reflect on the sacrifices made. And Give Thanks!