Field Trip Friday: 69th Regiment Armory

A few weeks ago, OHNY staffers Jessica and Hae-In went on a tour of the 69th Regiment Armory, located at 68 Lexington Avenue and completed in 1906. The three-story brick building takes up a full block and is topped by a two-story mansard roof. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Armory contains and displays the 69th Regiment’s lineage, history, honors and traditions. Sergeant First Class Carrasquillo led an informative and extensive tour of the space, highlighting their history and tradition.

69th Regiment Armory

SFC Carrasquillo started with the background of the regiment and its ties to the New York Irish community. Irish patriots in New York believed they needed to form an Irish Brigade to help free Ireland from British control. By mid 1849, the First Irish Regiment had formed and it is to this regiment that the 69th traces its earliest lineage. On December 21, 1849 the First Irish Regiment was adopted by the State, which is the officially recognized date of organization for the 69th Regiment. And since 1851, the 69th Regiment has been the military escort for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Bull Run to Baghdahd exhibit

The unit is often referred to as the “Fighting 69th,” a nickname given by General Robert E. Lee and is also said to be the original owner of “Fighting Irish” nickname, which the University of Notre Dame inherited via chaplains who served with the unit during the Civil War. The regiment can trace roots back to the American Revolution. The regiment has seen combat in five wars: the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. It has also participated in 23 campaigns.

SFC Carrasquillo speaks about the Congressional medals of honor

Seven men from the 69th Regiment have been awarded the Medal of Honor and the Armory has five of these medals displayed. This is a high number for a National Guard regiment, and notably all of them survived the actions in which they were awarded. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military decoration for gallantry and the Regiment’s earliest medal was issued in 1867 and most recently in 1947. You can find more information about the individuals who were awarded here.

Regiment Crest

Many of the unit’s traditions and symbols are derived from its Irish heritage, including the regimental crest which depicts the 1861 Regimental dress cap device braced by two Irish Wolfhounds and the red shamrock of the First Division of the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War. These separated by a rainbow depicting the units service as a founding regiment of the 42nd Rainbow Division in World War I. The green background is unique to their unit–most are blue– as a nod to their Irish roots.

WPA mural in the basement

Downstairs in the basement, the walls of one room are covered in colorful WPA murals of scenes from the history of American warfare, including the battles of the Civil War, the Spanish American War and getting ready to leave for World War I.

Father Duffy's last rites set

Father Francis Patrick Duffy, a Roman Catholic priest and the most celebrated U.S. Army chaplain in the Great War, is memorialized throughout the Armory. Appointed chaplain of the 69th Infantry Regiment in 1914, he traveled with the unit first-aid station, providing physical and spiritual care to the wounded and performing last rites for the dying. His presence on the battlefield meant exposing himself to constant danger and his bravery made him a legendary figure.

Garryowen Bar

The tour also included the Garryowen bar, which is decorated with a lot of photos and memorabilia. The Regiment also has a Regimental Cocktail, which is prepared for toasting at all regimental affairs. The cocktail is made with one part Irish whiskey to three parts champagne. The cocktail was first consumed by General Thomas Francis Meagher when Meagher could not obtain Vichy water (similar to tonic) in Fredericksburg, Virginia during the Civil War. General Meagher sent a soldier to get Vichy water to mix with his whiskey but the soldier could not find any so he brought back champagne instead and thus the cocktail was born.

Fireplace of Garryowen Bar

The 69th Regiment Armory still serves its original function as the headquarters of and training center for the National Guard and lends its drill hall for exhibition purposes. Most famously, it housed the 1913 Armory Show where America was introduced to Modern Art. They also hosted some New York Knicks home games from 1946 to 1960. And after the September 11 attacks, the Armory served as a counseling center for the victims and families. Most recently, the Armory was host to The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show last month.

69th Regiment Armory
68 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010

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