Today is an “exact date” in U.S. military history, and a red letter one in the minds of many veterans and active duty soldiers.
Today is an "exact date" in U.S. military history, and a red letter one in the minds of many veterans and active duty soldiers. It was on Dec. 12 that the Continental Congress created the cavalry branch of the Army.
But, in researching the date, there was a problem. The almost always reliable Army Almanac says it was Dec. 12, 1776. But the usually reliable VFW calendar says it was Dec. 12, 1775. I'm going to go with the almanac and write the calendar entry off as a typographical error.
Since there is no disagreement about the month and date, what difference does it make if my favorite branch of the Army is 237 years old or a mere 236 years today?
Many years ago when I attended a formal ball at Fort Campbell, Ky., with a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War, a future Polish army major general and commander of all Polish Special Forces units, and a future U.S. Air Force general, I told the audience of Special Forces officers that I was a proud retiree of the Army's first "special force," the U.S. cavalry.
There have been famous cavalrymen in virtually every war America has participated in since the Revolutionary War. That one had Light Horse Harry Lee who fathered an engineer officer who led his army in a future war.
There was "Fighting Joe" Wheeler, a dashing cavalryman for the south during the Civil War who led U.S. Army troops in the Spanish-American War. There were the names Sheridan, Stoneman, (not so famous), and Custer, famous, flamboyant, and the best known of all of them.
During the Mexican Border dispute prior to WW I there was a young captain named Patton, the most famous cavalryman of the 20th century.
Cavalry is the only branch to have had another separate branch created from it. When tanks replaced horses in 1942, armor branch was created, but cavalry branch remained. Then during the Vietnam War came the air cavalry.
To confuse things, during WW II the 1st Cavalry Division was established, and remains today, although it was and is an infantry division.
During my active duty days, now so long ago, I was in cavalry units in Korea, up near the DMZ; in Germany along the East-West German border, and in Vietnam. Unlike most cavalry officers, I also served in the one cavalry training squadron, at Fort Knox, Ky. It was interesting to see young cavalrymen being trained to do their important myriad of duties.
I must say my favorite cavalry assignment was the one on the border in Germany. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment was the only unit that patrolled a border with two potential enemies: East Germany and Czechoslovakia. I loved the border, but was in the regiment only a year due to a drawdown in Europe to send troops to Vietnam.
Alas, as with the departure from the military scene of the cavalry horse, other changes and the introduction of technology have caused the cavalry of my active duty days to change in many ways. But time marches on, and progress and change must be made.
Which, I suppose, is a major reason the military has a mandatory retirement policy. We older former warriors who enjoyed our roles are put out to pasture before the roles changed too much, which would have caused us sorrow.
The heyday of the cavalry might have passed, but the memories are in our minds and hearts forever. Far too many of the cavalrymen I served with have made the unwelcomed departure to Fiddler's Green, a term I have no room left to explain. I end with a tip of the well worn Stetson and a hearty happy birthday to all who wore, and wear, the crossed sabers of a proud branch.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.