Troop I of the First New York National Guard Cavalry was mustered into service 100 years ago, but most of the 50 or so people who attended the 100th anniversary dinner Sunday of Troop I American Legion Post 665 were more interested in enjoying a social occasion than in reliving their experiences in the wars of the last century.
“Most of these veterans don’t reminisce much about their military service except sometimes among their close families,” post Commander Michael F. Weidmann said.
Soldiers of Troop I helped to quell civil disorders during a labor strike in Depew in 1914, served along the Mexican border in 1916 and fought in Europe during World War I. Of course, no veterans of those conflicts are still alive to talk about them.
At one time, their commander was then-Capt. William J. Donovan, the Buffalo native who went on to become Maj. Gen. “Wild Bill” Donovan and is credited with forming the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to today’s Central Intelligence Agency.
Weidmann, who served in Vietnam and Alaska as a specialist chief legal clerk in 1965-68, has been commander of the Troop I American Legion Post at 432 Franklin St. for the last two years.
In cooperation with post historian Beth Miller, he presented a brief history of the former Cavalry unit and the Legion Post that carries on its name. Miller served as a Military Police officer in the United States and Germany in 1969-76, achieving the rank of sergeant.
Though there was little talk about individual service in the nation’s recent wars, there was a solemn element to the occasion.
An empty chair representing prisoners of war and those missing in action occupied a place of honor near the head table during a POW-MIA Remembrance Service.
A lighted candle and a single red rose in a white vase with a red ribbon carried the message to prisoners and the missing that “You are not forgotten.”
Those attending the anniversary dinner were greeted outside by uniformed deputies and horses of the Sheriff’s Office Mounted Division. The Cavalry, of course, originally was a horse-mounted troop; but today’s units are completely motorized.
The principal speaker, Warren Baltes, historian of the Connecticut Street Armory, recited a history of the Cavalry as a large cake with white and blue frosting, a Cavalry insignia and the numerals 1912-2012 waited nearby to be cut as part of the 100th birthday celebration.
The post home on Franklin Street also houses the Hamlin House restaurant, where co-owner John Bitterman has been serving lunches, dinners and Sunday morning breakfasts for 20 years. His father, Jim Bitterman, 83, is a Korean War veteran who goes to the restaurant every Friday for a fish dinner.
Historical references distributed during Sunday’s program agree that the troop was formed in 1912 and was called upon to help put down a strike in 1914 at Gould Coupler Works in Depew. They differ, though, on just when Donovan became its commander. Some say he took over late in 1912 and some say not until 1916.
Donovan, for whom the former Gen. Donovan State Office Building on lower Main Street was named, was a high-ranking lawyer in the U.S. Justice Department, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and governor, prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, ambassador to Thailand and holder of the four highest U.S. awards: the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal and National Security Medal. He died in 1959 at age 76.
Troop I, under various commanders, was called into federal service for duty on the Mexican border in 1916-17, and served in France in World War I.