Virginia National Guard historical connection to Jamestown

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Col. Marshall L. Kjelvik, Director of Staff for the Virginia Air National Guard, cut a cake in honor of the 409th birthday of the Virginia National Guard and the founding of the Jamestown colony May 14, 2016, at Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia National Guard traces the heritage and traditions of citizen service to the founding of Jamestown when Capt. John Smith organized the colonists for defense. Since the colony’s founding May 14, 1607, there has not been a day since without a military presence in Virginia to defend freedom at home and overseas.

Prior to 1652, formal military organizations were formed as needed and disbanded after the threat passed, and then the House of Burgesses passed a bill that each county would organize militia companies into a regiment. The oldest continuous service regiment in the Virginia National Guard is the 116th Infantry, dating from 1742. The 1st Virginia Regiment was raised July 17, 1775, in Williamsburg as a state militia unit and later for service with the Continental Army, and its lineage lives on today in the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion.

Historical interpreters from Jamestown help celebrate the  ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Virginia National Guard’s newly-built Joint Force Headquarters building May 14, 2018, at Defense Supply Center Richmond in Chesterfield County, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Terra C. Gatti)

National Guard Bureau states on their web site that the official birth date of the Army National Guard as a reserve component of the Army is December 13, 1636. On this date, the Massachusetts colonial legislature directed that the colony’s existing militia companies be organized into three regiments. This date is recognized based upon the Department of Defense’s practice of adopting the dates of initial authorizing legislation for organized units as the birthdates of the active and reserve components of the armed services.

According to their web site. the Florida National Guard celebrates the first known muster of Citizen-Soldiers in the continental U.S. during a celebration in St. Augustine, Fla. The “first muster” took place on Sept. 16, 1565, when Pedro Menendez de Aviles gathered around him the soldiers of his small Spanish army, as well as the civilian settlers who had accompanied him to the newly established presidio town of St. Augustine. Because his plan called for the use of the majority of his regular soldiers, Menendez drew upon Spanish laws governing the milicia, or militia, in an imperial province. As both the civil governor and the commander-in-chief of the military establishment, he had the authority to call all free male settlers in the presidio province to active service.

Virginia National Guard service dates back to the American Revolution through the American Civil War to World War I and II and on into Operation Desert Shield / Desert Storm and the Global War on Terror.

The 29th Infantry Division, 116th Infantry Regiment, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 54th Field Artillery Brigade and 246th Field Artillery Regiment were all formed in 1917 from existing militia units as the United States prepared to enter World War I. Soldiers of the 116th Infantry spearheaded an attack in October 1918 during what was known as the Meuse Argonne Offensive. During this attack, Sgt. Earle Gregory of the 116th Infantry earned the Medal of Honor, the first Virginia Guard Soldier to receive the award. The 29th, 116th and 111th are still in active service today, and the 329th Regional Support Group carries the lineage of the 54th, and the 429th Brigade Support Battalion carries the lineage of the 246th.

World War I marked the first time that volunteer state militia units were activated for federal duty under a formal Army structure and deployed overseas for combat operations. Guard Soldiers served with courage, honor and distinction, and that tradition continues on today as we have Guard personnel deployed all over the world.

During World War II, Soldiers from the 29th took part in the massive invasion of Normandy France that began the morning of June 6, 1944, to be known forever as “D-Day.” More than 800 members of the 116th Infantry were killed, wounded or missing during the assault on Omaha Beach, but their courage and bravery helped create a foothold that allowed follow on forces to continue the assault. Two days after D-Day, Tech. Sgt. Frank Peregory of Company K, 116th Infantry from Charlottesville, became the second Virginia Guard Soldier to earn the Medal of Honor when he single-handedly killed or captured 30 enemy soldiers defending a trench line.

More recently, Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen served during Operation Desert Storm, and since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more than 15,000 Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen have served on federal active duty in support of Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Soldiers and Airmen helped maintain security in the United States and further the cause of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as serving in the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Virginia National Guard field artillery Soldiers explain the capabilities of the M119A2 howitzer, answer questions about the Guard and take part in a demonstration of 400 years of Virginia artillery during the Military Through the Ages event March 21, 2015, at Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg, Va. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)