KINGSTON — Sept. 11 marked tragedy for the 109th Field Artillery long before terrorists attacked the United States in 2001.
On Sept. 11, 1950, a total of 33 soldiers from the battalion died in a train accident on their way to pre-mobilization training for deployment to Korea at Camp Atterbury, Ind.
After suffering mechanical failure on the tracks early in the morning, the stalled train was struck by a passenger engine. The rear two cars, the ones most affected by the accident, contained the 109th Battalion.
Every year since then, the 109th has held a memorial in their honor. After 2001, however, the ceremony gained more meaning. It now honors all of the men and women who died while serving the 109th in conflicts from the Battle of Wyoming in 1775 to present day.
Sgt. Christopher Keen, public information officer for the battalion and master of ceremonies for the event, described its significance Sunday at the Kingston Armory.
“A National Guard Battalion like this that’s integral to the community, be it a natural disaster where we’re helping out, recruiting from the community— all of our strength and soldiers come from the community,” he said. “When we mourn, they mourn, and when they mourn, we mourn. That’s why we hold a community event like this every year. It’s important to keep that enmeshment with the community.”
Lt. Col. William Start delivered the keynote remarks at the memorial.
“All those attending this memorial today have been impacted by the selfless service of the members of our armed forces,” he said. “You are here with a sense of gratitude, recognizing that our freedom is not free. This ceremony has been held on the Sunday closest to September 11 for 67 years.
“This is well before 9/11 came of reference to the horrific attack on our soils of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville (Pa). It is appropriate for us to stand together and remember those families and the emergency workers who were impacted 16 years ago tomorrow.”
During the ceremony, dog tags were placed on crosses to honor the conflicts in which the battalion served. In addition, members of American Legion posts, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and the Italian-American Veterans Club placed wreaths by the crosses under the flagpole.
Michael Ayers, commander of Black Diamond American Legion Post #5 in Kingston, presented a wreath at the ceremony.
“It’s very humbling when you come to something like this and you get to see just how much of an impact the 109th has had and how many lives have been lost serving our country,” he said. “This kind of thing needs to happen so we can remember that, so we never forget that every generation loses someone to protect our country. Freedom is not free.”
The 109th Artillery served in a multitude of battles from Valley Forge to Gettysburg to the French countryside and the Battle of the Bulge and was a decisive force in each of those engagements.