Although anticipated for several weeks, little did I know when I woke up on Saturday, March 17 that the day would have such awesome experiences in store for me. I had been invited to St. Patrick's Day festivities in New York City as a guest of the 69th Regimental Headquarters (Armory) on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan because of my book, "My Dear Jen," which through letters, tells of my father's experiences in World War I with the Irish Brigade, "Fighting 69th," 165 Infantry Rainbow Division. Of course, Saint Patrick, being the patron saint of Ireland, makes St. Patrick's Day a big day for the 69th and those of Irish heritage. Even though many Irish did not come to the United States until the 1840s, many were here earlier as evidenced by the parade's history well before this time, with this year marking its 251st anniversary; or "on the streets of New York since 1762."
Security was very tight at the Armory since the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, was coming for a ceremony for the 69th Regiment. My son Tim was my escort and we had to wear wristbands for identification. Bomb sniffing dogs covered the area. I met the historian of the 69th who has an office in the Armory, Jim Tierney, and was also instrumental in my invitation. I gave him my book for their archives and left some at the gift store. The invitation covered my attendance for the Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral before the parade.
Tim and I had special seats in the third row center. Tickets are required on this day with hundreds of people wanting to get in, however, this is the day for the 69th, and I was very honored to be part of the events.
Rosamond at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City,
The newly appointed Cardinal Timothy Dolan was the celebrant and it was indeed very heartwarming to see the 69th soldiers marching in with General Dempsey. To my surprise, Governor Cuomo took his seat nearby. Needless to say, this was a rare opportunity to meet them, but doubted I could get close. Fortunately, my usual good luck stepped in. When the Mass ended, people remained and were visiting with people in the front where we were, so I went over to the Governor and introduced myself as the daughter of WWI officer Donald Kennedy Gillespie of the "Fighting 69th." He shook my hand and I handed him my book. With my usual optimism, I then pictured him paging through the book on his limo ride back to Albany! Unfortunately, son Tim just missed getting a photo.
Next I waited to speak to the general, who turned out to be very personable and I realized that is probably what got him to be where he is today. He looked at the photo I had placed on my green boa naming my father and his WWI 69th information. We spoke for a minute or so and he asked if I was going back to the Armory. I said I was headed for the reviewing stand where I had a ticket to see the parade, not realizing he was headed back to give his speech. This was clearly a mistake, as I could have been present at this event as he left in his motorcade.
The ticket for the reviewing stand indicated to be there by a certain time so Tim and I got a cab and went to 66th Street. We stood on line for a while and then came the news that the seats were all filled. Reluctantly we stood on the corner for four hours waiting to see my daughter Mary and her Civil War Fife and Drum unit to pass by. Finally, as the crowd thinned out, we were able to sit for the last two hours. The mass of people lined the streets from 44th to 86th where the parade ended. There were at least 50 bagpipe units with their tartan colors and Irish music. It was a very long, six-hour parade. Senator Schumer paraded along smiling and waving to the crowd. Later I was told I should have stayed longer at the Cathedral as Liam Murphy, retired commander of the Navy and presently professor at the New York Maritime College, who had arranged all of this for me, said he could have taken us right to the reviewing stand in special seats! In hindsight, yet another mistake.
Nevertheless, with all the missed photo opportunities and the "I should have done" and "I should have said," I had to be thankful for what did happen and have many wonderful memories. (Rosamond)
The Armory, Union Square, Subway and Parade Participant
By MARY BURNS DEAS
Sometimes it seems as though life is a series of snapshot memories rather than a continuous reel of every moment experienced. Snapshots from a crazy fun St. Patrick's Day weekend in New York City include castle-like doors at the Armory, display cases with artifacts ranging from the Civil War to Iraq, a rickety elevator up to our "luxurious" fifth floor gymnasium accommodations, impromptu fife and drum performances under the lights at Union Square and Broadway, 120 Union Blue riding the subway with rifles and bayonets, winding through masses of celebratory people to the staging area of the parade to 47th Street, the reactionary looks of bystanders seeing a Civil War unit plopped in the middle of the city in 2012, and a solemn military salute of "present arms" where the Civil War unit, in line, held out their rifles as the current 69th passed on their way back to the Armory between another long line of bagpipers.
Our Civil War Fife and Drum unit, the 20th Maine, had been invited to fall in with some other musicians and lead the 69th Irish Brigade in the famous St. Patrick's Day parade. The seven-hour trip did not seem long and the GPS took us right from our front door in Fredonia to the Armory in Manhattan. We set up "camp," donned our period clothing, and before long were out on the front steps practicing such Irish melodies as Gary Owen. The night lights found us making our way down Park Avenue and playing for New Yorkers at Union Square and Broadway near a statue of Lincoln. In typical New York style, many people felt free to dance along with the music with big smiles on their faces. It was fun to see people coming from restaurants and clubs to take it the "time warp" and take numerous photos and videos.
Saturday was a long day. Understand that the current 69th was back to the Armory from the parade before we even left for the subway to our staging area. No doubt, the subway was a sight to behold both for us with our hoops, drums and rifles, as well as for the usual riders to see a long line of men in blue with rifles pouring onto several subway cars and setting off the metal detectors. It was funny to see this same long line coming up the subway stairs with no room for anyone else. Although our group was supposed to step onto the parade route at 2:10, as typical with many parades, we waited. We waited for over two hours, on top of the arrival time an hour early. No one seemed to mind much, as the spirit of the day on the side street was one of celebration. Parade participants visited and practiced music. People in pubs and those passing by on the street danced, took photos, admired clothing, and some pleaded to hold our rifles.
The parade of over 40 city blocks did not seem long. The weather was perfect. We passed Saint Patrick's Cathedral where the Cardinal blessed the Irish Brigade flags, Central Park, and historic monuments such as General Sherman. All in all, being in a parade is a great way to see the sights of the city unobstructed by crowds or traffic. Although we are Irish and love to hear the bagpipes, after numerous bands, the fife and drum music proved to be unique and appreciated by many.
These are some of our snapshot memories of this special weekend. The only sad one was watching one of the family turn the corner at the Armory after it was all over to take the train and head back to Virginia to college. If life had a movie reel, this is one we would love to replay.
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