RICHMOND, Va. — A new historical exhibit showcasing the Virginia National Guard’s role in defending the U. S. border from hostile Mexican revolutionaries from 1916 to 1917 was unveiled after a meeting of the Virginia World War I Centennial Committee Nov. 2, 2015, at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Va. The Guard’s service during the Mexican Expedition marked the first time they were federalized under a national standard and helped prepare the troops for duty in World War I.
On hand for the unveiling were Virginia Delegate Betsy Carr, chairwoman of the Virginia World War I Centennial Committee, Department of Veterans Services Commissioner John Newby, Virginia War Memorial Executive Director John Hatfield, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and members of the Virginia World War I Centennial Committee.
“This was the first time the president had federalized the National Guard, and troops were able to mobilize, come together in one place and train to a national standard,” Williams said.
The Militia Act of 1903, also known as the Dick Act, set out the circumstances under which the National Guard could be federalized, and it also marked the beginning of National Guard units being organized in similar structures as the regular Army, Williams explained. The National Defense Act of 1916 further updated the Militia Act of 1903, and it authorized the president to mobilize the National Guard in case of war or other national emergency for an unlimited duration.
Experience and proficiency varied greatly between Guard units when they arrived for border duty, but it provided extensive hands-on, practical experience for the troops and excellent training and development for leaders and transformed the Guard into a more effective fighting force. That experience helped prepare them when they began shipping out in 1917 for combat duty in Europe, Williams said.
The main graphic in the exhibit explains that “on the night of March 8 1916, Pancho Villa, commanding several hundred Mexican revolutionaries, crossed the United States border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. Seven days later, General John Pershing led the first column of U.S. troops after Villa. Regular Army units moved to the border to take up defensive positions and later moved down into Mexico to protect Pershing’s supply lines.”
President Woodrow Wilson made the decision to call up the National Guard to help secure the border and prevent further raids, and almost every state provided Guard troops.
The graphic further explains that U.S. law prohibited Guard units from crossing into Mexico, so “the Guard units had to maintain a defensive position and assume the role of border guards. Virginia contributed infantry and artillery regiments, a cavalry squadron and several companies of engineers and signal troops. All total, there were nearly four thousand Virginians deployed to camps in southern Texas near the Mexican border for almost a year. Though the guard’s time on the border was relatively uneventful, the action prepared the U.S. military including Virginia National Guard for its upcoming roll in World War I, less than a year later.”
The new exhibit is part of a growing partnership between the Virginia National Guard and the Virginia War Memorial, Hatfield said.
“This exhibit is important because it shows Virginia’s part in leading up to our entry into World War I in 1917,” he said. “It is the also important because it is a collaboration between the Virginia National Guard, the 116th Regimental Museum in Verona and the Virginia War Memorial to create an exhibit that teaches freedom isn’t free.”
He also expressed his appreciation for the members of the Virginia Defense Force who have volunteered their time for many years to provide traffic control and parking assistance at large events held at the memorial.
Items in the exhibit are on loan from the Virginia Nationa Guard Historical Collection, the 116th Regimental Museum and friends of the Virginia War Memorial.
Photos of the exhibit on Facebook:
Photos of the exhibit on Flickr:
The Virginia War Memorial’s mission is Honor Veterans, Preserve History, Educate Youth and Instill Patriotism in All. Dedicated in 1956, the Memorial includes the names of the nearly 12,000 Virginia heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the Global War on Terrorism. The Virginia War Memorial is a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and serves as an integral part of its mission in support of all Virginians who served in our military forces.
The Virginia World War I Centennial Committee is the official statewide committee responsible for the commemoration of Virginia’s effort in WWI. According to their official Facebook page, the committee’s mission is “to honor, commemorate, and educate the public on the involvement of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the national war effort during World War I, and to recognize equally the role, patriotism, valor, and sacrifice of Virginia’s citizens, at home and at the front, throughout the duration of the War; and, further, to ensure the maintenance and continued operation of the Virginia War Memorial Carillon.”
Virginia World War I Centennial Committee