Memorial Day ~ Lest We Forget

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On thy grave the rain shall fall
from the eyes of a mighty nation.

Thomas William Parsons


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From these honored dead we take increased devotion
to that cause for which thy gave
the last full measure of devotion …
that we here highly resolve
that these dead
shall not have died in vain.

Abraham Lincoln

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Former BLM Mustang Escorts Fallen Marine To Arlington Cemetery

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His name was Marine Sgt. Trevor Johnson, a young Marine who was killed by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan.

He was a fifth-generation boy from Montana who grew up riding horses, herding cattle and mending fences.

When the young soldier was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on a cold winter day, a symbol of the fallen soldier’s ranching roots helped to escort him there.

Lonesome, a horse donated to The Old Guard’s caisson platoon from the Montana Bureau of Land Management lead the caisson that carried Johnson’s casket.

Lonesome was born at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding facility in Butte, Montana on Oct.12, 1995. As a young foal, he was freeze marked, a white identity mark that is clearly seen, today.

Lonesome was eventually adopted by Mark Sant, a BLM Archeologist.  Sant soon learned that Lonesome was exceptional in many ways. He was smart, strong and had a great personality.

When Mark Sant heard the Old Guard was looking for large black mustangs for their Caisson Platoon, he could think of no greater honor than donating Lonesome to be a part of that prestigious team.

Lonesome, the stunning black mustang of the Caisson Platoon, has since participated in hundreds of funerals as well as the funeral for former President Ronald W. Reagan, and the 55th Inaugural Parade.

Lonesome has turned out to be a wonderful ambassador for the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program as well as a beautiful, well-trained and loved member of the Third Army’s Caisson Platoon.

How the horse came to assist in the interment ceremony for Marine Corps Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson at Arlington took some initiative by Mark Sant.  Although he had never met Johnson, he wanted the Marine’s family to have a symbol of the state as they mourned the loss of a loved one so many, many miles from home.

Mark Sant e-mailed the office of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to seek help finding Lonesome – the horse Sant had donated to the military several years ago.

An Aide for the Governor contacted the Montana National Guard, which in turn contacted the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or Old Guard, which assists in burial services at Arlington National Cemetery.

It’s not a request the Old Guard hears often, but one that was easy to oblige, said Major Steven Cole. “It’s stories like this that show the depths of care that all Americans have for their service men and women,” Cole said.

Cole further stated that to his knowledge, Lonesome is the only mustang from Montana.

Lonesome, front left lead horse

Just as Marine Sgt. Trevor took the lead in the battlefield, Lonesome took the lead on that day in Arlington Cemetery.

A Montana-grown horse carried the body of one of Montana’s brave soldiers.

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References:
DC Military
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Land Management

Last Photo: Adam Skoczylas

Memorial Day ~ Remembering The Lost

They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation.
Henry Ward Beecher

And they who for their country die
Shall fill an honored grave,
For glory lights the soldier’s tomb,
And beauty weeps the brave.
Joseph Drake

With the tears a Land hath shed
Their graves should ever be green.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Fort Sam Houston’s Caisson Section Pays Tribute to Fallen Soldiers & Veterans

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 A horse-drawn caisson slowly rolls toward a burial site
at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery

It could be an old man who lived a full life. It could be a young man who died too soon.

Better not to know, they say. Do your job, do your best to pay tribute to them.

“This husband, this son has earned the right to have a caisson funeral,” says Sgt. Jason Baldwin.

“We get to take them to their final rest.”

Baldwin was riding Hall, a 22-year-old veteran of these ceremonies, a horse that knew without being told the route through the painful beauty of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, with its bright white headstones, to the burial site where the soldier’s family waited.

Fort Sam Houston’s is the only full-time caisson section in the country other than the illustrious Old Guard at Ft. Myer at Arlington Cemetery.

It doesn’t share the same high profile, but it has the same charge: to convey departed soldiers to their final resting place in a rite with deep roots in military tradition.

In this age of modern warfare, there is something comforting in the fact that the Army still has a need for horses.

On this day, when the hearse arrived, the men straightened up in their saddles, their backs erect and their faces grave. The horses shifted their feet and arched their necks, sensing their job was about to begin.

Baldwin trotted out on Hall and saluted as he passed the hearse, then turned to face the caisson.

A six-man military honor guard removed the flag-covered casket from the hearse, gently carried it to the caisson and secured it to its bed.

Baldwin swung Hall around and began to walk. The caisson moved forward.

There was a rhythmic clop-clop-clop of horses’ hooves, jangling of the harness chains and creaking of wheels as the caisson section made its steady, solemn progress.

When the group arrived at the burial spot, the honor guard removed the casket and carried it to the bier (elevated platform).

The caisson moved on. There would be taps and gunfire and a eulogy, but the men on the horses wouldn’t be there for it. Their job was done.

If there is one thing the soldiers of the Fort Sam Houston caisson section are sure of, it’s that what they do has a place in today’s world.

“This is not a regular job, this means something to me. I’ve been to Iraq, I know what happens,” Baldwin says. “I love being able to give honor to those who have fallen or have returned and done their part.”

The Army itself even changed the lyrics of its official song from the original “And the caissons go rolling along” to “And the Army goes rolling along.”

But at Fort Sam Houston, nine soldiers, eight horses and a stable master make sure that a caisson does still roll — for those who served their country and those who paid the ultimate price doing so.

Friesian Horse Team Joins North Carolina Police Caisson Unit

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North Carolina Trooper Ernest Ramsey Welcomes New Recruit

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The North Carolina Troopers Association (NCTA) strongly believed a horse-drawn caisson unit was a worthwhile project to take on, because it would add an extra measure of dignity and solemnity to funerals of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

The newly formed North Carolina State Highway Patrol Caisson Unit were thoroughly searching for the ideal horse team.

Meanwhile, Janet and Jay Stingel were looking for the perfect retirement home for their Friesian four horse team who annually spent their summers at Mackinac Island.

North Carolina Trooper Ernest Ramsey who spearheaded the creation of North Carolina’s caisson unit worked with Janet and Jay Stingel for their Friesians to become the official North Carolina Caisson Unit team.

For the last ten years, the Islanders had called them “The Boys”.

However, the 22-year-olds, Detlef, Fetse, Kenny, and Fonger, won’t be making the trip north from their winter home at Biltmore Stables in Asheville, North Carolina, because the Stingels have donated them to the newly formed North Carolina State Highway Patrol Caisson Unit.

“We wanted to make sure they would have a good home,” said Janet Stingel. “Keeping the team together” was the couple’s biggest concern, agreed Mr. Stingel.

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The Island trails and demanding hills were a little more than the aging horses could easily handle, he said, but as caisson horses, they will travel only about six blocks with each funeral hearse they pull.

The Stingels were the first to introduce Islanders to the Friesian breed at a time when no more than 1,000 of them lived in the United States, Mr. Stingel said.

With the gift of the Stingel’s Friesian team to the North Carolina Caisson Unit, the state officially has four new troopers.

The Friesian horse team have been assigned badge numbers and are considered North Carolina Troopers and protected under the law.

Each saddle patch displays an official emblem.

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According to Terry Story, NCTA president, the caisson unit is unique and may well be the only state group of its kind in the nation.

Only trained team members with experience working with horses and operating horse team-drawn wagons are authorized to operate the caisson unit.

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In addition to use at police officer and firefighter funerals, the unit also can be used for services for current and past governors of North Carolina, incumbent members of the North Carolina General Assembly, and law enforcement officers from other states killed in the line of duty.

The wagon being used was built by members of the Amish community in Ohio and purchased for $18,000 by Trooper Ramsey as a donation to the NCTA. The wagon was made to exact Civil War specifications and is similar to wagons used in Arlington National Cemetery.

Military personnel from the Arlington National Cemetery have agreed to provide training free of charge for caisson unit members.

Clearly there is much excitement about the new additions to the North Carolina State Patrol.  All are committed to making this caisson unit a first class operation.

As for the Stingels, they are encouraging other Friesian owners to donate their horses to similar noble services


Last Call For Arlington Farrier

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At Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery,
a sign painted on the side of the door reads:
“Horse Shoeing. Pete Cote. Nation’s farrier.”

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After 35 years as the farrier at Fort Myer, Va., Pete Cote has learned more than a few things about horses and a little about life — mostly the hard way.

He’s been kicked and stomped on, head-butted and sat on. And still, he says, he feels as though he understands horses “a whole lot better” than people

The trick is to “work with them and not against them,” he says. This is, perhaps, one of the hardest-won lessons he will take with him as he leaves his job as the last civilian farrier on the Army payroll.

Members of the Old Guard, the oldest and most prestigious active-duty infantry unit in the Army, based at Ft. Myer, are gathering outside the stables for reveille when Cote pulls up in his white pickup truck.

Cote jumps out of the truck, opens the big wooden doors of the blacksmith shop, turns on bright fluorescent lights, takes a quick walk through the stables to gauge what needs to be done and stokes the forge with coal.

By 6 a.m. his apprentice arrives, and stable hands start bringing in the horses that need to be shod. Cote ties his mule-skin apron around him and gets to work.

Reaching for a pair of plastic goggles, he grabs a couple of horseshoes from a rack, turns on the bench grinder and sends a shower of sparks flying as he begins to shape them. With an acetylene torch, he cuts the shoes to size, then buries them in the red-hot coals of a forge.

Once the metal turns white-hot, he removes them and hammers out toe clips that willhold them on the hoof. Six nails are usually enough to attach a horseshoe, though Cote remembers having to use 16 of them once on a horse with flat feet.

Every six weeks, each of the 46 horses in the stable is brought in for a new set of shoes.

Every day, two teams of eight horses will be called on to pull a caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. Back and forth, sometimes several times a day, the horses can walk up to 15 miles in a day on hard pavement.

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Cote, 55, knew he wanted to be a farrier from the moment he shod his first horse, at age 12. Drafted into the Army after high school, he spent eight months in Germany as a heavy artilleryman.

But after writing letters to the Pentagon touting his knowledge of horses, he was transferred in 1970 to Fort Myer, where he started working in the stables. After being honorably discharged in 1971, he was hired back as a civilian blacksmith and farrier.

As the primary farrier for the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Army’s official ceremonial unit, Cote has helped prepare horses for ceremonial events from Lyndon Johnson’s Funeral in 1973 to Ronald Reagan’s last year.

In between he has shod horses for nine presidential inaugurations and countless military parades.

When asked about the highlights of his career, however, he is more apt to talk about battle scars than ceremonial moments.

Each injury tells a story. The list includes cracked ribs, collapsed lung, herniated disks, torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders and torn ligaments.

In one of his earlier accidents, as he walked up alongside a horse, it turned its head, butting Cote in the face. That earned him a reconstructed nose, not to mention two black eyes.  Another time, a horse fainted and fell over on him.

Then there was the time a horse got scared and kicked him in the mouth. “I couldn’t open my mouth,” says Cote. For weeks he lived on soup and milkshakes, writing down what he wanted to say.

Cote has been teaching an apprentice, Sgt. Bradley Carlson, 27, to succeed him: He advises him to “Keep foot level. Keep shoe level. Make it pleasant to the eye … if it pleases the eye of the owner, the horse is well shoed”.

Carlson says he’s learning to “put what where” and is confident that “I can do pretty good.” Still, Cote leaves “a big shoe to fill.

Eugene Burks, a saddler who has worked with Cote for more than 20 years says that as much as Cote has been a cornerstone of the stable operations, his presence throughout the years has also helped in “holding this platoon together.”

It is with some reluctance that Cote leaves the horses and the members of the Old Guard at Ft.Myer. “My mind says I don’t want to go, but my body says I have to go.”

Cote now looks forward to trail rides with his wife and taking care of his own horses.

 

Heinz Donates Horse Hitch To Arlington Cemetery

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The eight Percheron horses will be used to pay homage to fallen soldiers in ceremonies.

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The H. J. Heinz Company announced today that it has donated the eight Percheron horses formerly used as part of the Heinz Hitch program to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) where they will be used to pay homage to fallen soldiers in the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

This donation will ensure that the horses are well cared for the rest of their lives while honoring our country’s fallen soldiers and veterans,” said Michael Mullen, Director of Global Corporate Affairs for the H. J. Heinz Company.

The Heinz horses will participate in some of the eight full-honor military funerals per day at Arlington.

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The new posts also have their perks. Each of the eight Percheron horses will a have full-time, dedicated caretaker and veterinarian and they will join the more than 50 horses already stationed at Fort Myer, VA.

“It’s fitting that our country’s finest will be carried to rest by such a noble breed of horses, the same that once carried knights into battle,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jeremy Light, Caisson Platoon leader with The Old Guard. “We’re truly grateful for Heinz’s unique gift.”

The Percherons will be members of the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), which is the United States Army’s official ceremonial unit.

During a funeral procession, six horses form a team that pulls a flag-draped coffin upon a caisson throughout Arlington National Cemetery.

Historic Hooves
The eight Percheron horses are more than up to this task, generating more than 16,000 pounds of raw horsepower. On several occasions, they’ve been known to pull a 30,000-pound Rose Parade float with no complaints.

Originally from the Perche region of France, Percherons are the only line of heavy horses not originally bred as draft horses. The horses first appeared more than 1,000 years ago and are a cross between Arabian Stallions and Flemish Plow Mares.

They were bred specifically to blend power, agility and speed. These attributes made the Percherons favored horses for carrying knights confidently into battle.

Today, Percherons are enjoying a renewed popularity among horsemen for their gentle nature, power and control.

Regal Relic Retired
Heinz discontinued the traveling Heinz Hitch program in early 2006 as it switched its focus to more contemporary consumer marketing. In July, the Heinz Hitch wagon, a replica of a historic 1800s-era horse-drawn grocery cart, was donated to the Senator John Heinz History Center, and is currently on long-term display in the Center’s first-floor Great Hall.

The Hitch was showcased at parades, fairs and expositions throughout the United States and Canada, including high-profile events like the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Major League Baseball’s Opening Day Parade.

It is with a great sense of pride for all of American as these eight Percherons assume their Duty with the Department of the Army to pay tribute to our country’s heroes.

Earlier Post:  Famed Heinz Hitch Now History