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Heritage Tour 2008

New Hampshire National Guard soldiers and airmen are taken through movements of colonial soldiers and shown how to load and fire muskets at the Bennington Monument in Vermont on August 16th 2008.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Timothy Psaledakis)

New Hampshire National Guard soldiers and airmen are taken through movements of colonial soldiers and shown how to load and fire muskets at the Bennington Monument in Vermont on August 16th 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Timothy Psaledakis)

August 15, 2008 -- As I boarded the bus, I felt like a grade school kid going on a field trip. In a sense, I was going on a field trip, but this one would have more meaning to me than any trip to a beach or aquarium ever could.

In history class, we all learned about the revolutionary battles and skirmishes that happened in New England, but for me that was years and years (and years) ago. And despite learning about it when I was young, my perspective has changed now that I am older and especially now that I am a N.H. Guardsman. I no longer see the events of the Revolutionary War as something I have to memorize for a test but an integral part in understanding how we became the National Guard of today.

The Minutemen, as they were called among other names such as rebels, provincials, and patriots, were essentially the colonial version of today's guardsman. The minutemen were not military by trade; they were farmers, however, they were ready "in a minute" to respond to their nation's needs, just like we do.

The first stop in connecting to our heritage was Fort Constitution (formerly Fort William and Mary under British rule.) As I got of the bus, I could smell the ocean, feel the cool breeze, and hear the horn of the lighthouse in the Portsmouth Harbor. The fog hovered on the ground as we passed through the brick archway, under the wooden gate and crossed over the cobblestones to the interior of the fort. Here, we learned that Fort Constitution was once N.H'.s provincial munitions depot that held extra supplies for the British. As the fog lifted, we heard tales of how 400 restless and discontented men from Portsmouth, Newcastle and Rye raided the fort and took gunpowder, cannons, muskets, gunflint and other supplies that were later used in the siege of Boston. Some say that this event began the Revolutionary War at least for N.H.

Our second stop was Bunker Hill. As we crossed over the Tobin Bridge, I could see the 294-step monument and other buildings protruding into the skyline. It is almost hard to imagine that this area was once farmland and green as far as the eye could see. Here we learned how John Stark and the N.H. regime played a prominent part in the first major battle in the war to gain independence. On a stone monument at the New Hampshire Gate are carved the words, "Colonel John Stark commanded 900 New Hampshire men at the rail fence and at the stone wall on the Mystic River shore against the British advances. This was the largest contingent of men from any of the colonies. They later assisted in covering the colonial retreat in the last minutes of the battle." Although the British won, the colonist from N.H. fought well and lost far fewer men than the British. According to history books, the British had no further offensive for nine months because they suffered such human loss by the hands of the colonists.

Our next stop was Lexington and Concord where we were greeted by our tour guide dressed in full colonial garb. He took us on a two-hour tour of the battlefield showing us sites such as the Bloody Angle, Miriam's Corner and the North Bridge. From across a field now filled with wildflowers, you could almost see British Red Coats retreating across North Bridge under militia fire. One of the most memorable events of the day happened just over North Bridge when a British man saw us walking toward him in our military uniforms. He joked, "I'm British so I'm going to go this way," he said as he headed off in the opposite direction.

After leaving Lexington and Concord, we traveled to the Bennington battlefield. Although the battle actually occurred in Walloomsec, N.Y. eight miles away from Bennington, V.T., the Green Mountain state stakes claim to the battle and it is there where the monument stands today. On the same day, Aug. 16, 231 years earlier, men from N.H. and other New England states stood in the exact spot we stood. It was there that they defeated the British who sought to capture weapons and food stored on site to replenish their own troops.

At the Bennington Monument, re-enactors milled about while others displayed trinkets from the era, singing songs and playing instruments. A few of the N.H. National Guardsmen even got to join in the festivities when they took up muskets and learned how to load and fire them.

This experience gave me, and, I am certain, others in the group, a greater sense of our National Guard heritage. Now that I have stepped foot on the same soil as the N.H. Guardsmen of the past, I have a greater appreciation for those who fought to free themselves from British rule and who paved the road (or perhaps I should say plowed the field) for who we are as guardsmen today.