Remembering when the PA National Guard helped defend the Mexican border after mustering in Mt. Gretna

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With recent news of increased military presence at the Mexcian border, it’s an opportune time to recall when Pennsylvania played a key role in earlier defense of that boundary line.

The year was 1916. Terror had already reached a peak in January when Francisco “Pancho” Villa kidnapped 17 Americans and executed them, but by a couple months later when he attacked a town in New Mexico the Border War became inevitable. In June of that year, President Wilson mobilized the National Guard to guard the Mexican Border and by July  Pennsylvania’s guard units were mustered at the military encampment in Mt. Gretna, called Camp Brumbaugh after the then-governor of Pennsylvania.

On the 100th anniversary of the mustering, the Reading Times rehashed its contemporaneous coverage of the event. The roads to Mt. Gretna were said to be packed leading up to that 4th of July with all manner of automobiles, motorcycles, and jitneys making the journey to the forest-nestled training site that you might know today as Soldiers Field. Many Philadelphia families were reported to have taken the train to Reading and hired cars for the rate of $15/day to take them to Gretna.

The Inquirer reported that this was the greatest camp assembled in Pennsylvania since the Civil War, and the largest National Guard camp that Pennsylvania had ever mustered.

According to the national guard’s own history of the event, “While today’s National Guard seamlessly integrates with active duty counterparts, it was an untried concept in 1916.” This was also the first American war where motorized artillery were used.

Several units of the 7th Division (the predecessor of the current 28th Infantry Division) were mustered into the First Brigade, Second Brigade, and the Third Brigade, with Maj. Gen. Charles M. Clement commanding the division in El Paso. A plaque for the 16th Pennsylvania Infantry still stands northeast of Conewago Lake near where Lakeview Road runs into Timber Road.

According to a July 8 1916 article in the Daily News, Company H in the Fourth Infantry consisted of three officers and 101 men from the Lebanon area. J. S. Bashore of Cumberland Street and August H. Von Bayer plied the members of Company H with cigars, cigarettes, and other articles as they headed out. Trains to Gretna from Lebanon were crowded with Lebanon people “anxious to pay their parting respects to the soldier boys on their way to the front.”

The museum at Fort Indiantown Gap has hundreds of photographs of the various units of the National Guard of Pennsylvania at Camp Stewart at El Paso, Texas, as well as weapons, field equipment, uniforms and a full-size model horse fully equipped and his rider, a lieutenant in uniform circa 1916.

The troops would return about a year later, only to be remustered not long later for World War I.

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