Major General Frank Vavala, The Adjutant General, Delaware, Chairman, National Guard Association of the United States, Former President, Adjutants General Association of the United States Brigadier General Terry L. Wiley, Former Assistant Adjutant General DE ARNG, Chairman Delaware Military Heritage and Education Foundation
The Delaware National Guard traces its roots to 1655 when the Swedish Colonial government formed a militia to defend itself. That tradition carried through Dutch and then English control of the colony. The militia served in all five French and Indian Wars and then distinguished itself during the American War of Independence as the First Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army earning their “Blue Hen” nickname. The Delaware militia continued to serve in every major war right through to the present time where they remain in the forefront.
The Delaware National Guard
The National Guard has origins that go very deep in history. A European concept of a citizen army can be traced to Greek history and was carried on in various forms during the Roman Empire and Western culture to follow. The modern militia concept had vigorous roots in English history that were transplanted to the New World. A militia is a body of citizens temporarily organized to defend themselves, sometimes called a trainband. They are ordinarily volunteers and they serve in their own community for the common defense. They are part-time soldiers and full time citizens with families, jobs, and homes. This description is still largely true after three and a half centuries. One of the first orders of business for the Virginia colony in 1607 was to fortify and defend itself against the indigenous natives. In 1620, the Massachusetts Bay Colony formed a militia for the same purpose. In Delaware a Swedish Colony was founded just two years later in 1638.
The Delaware National Guard dates itself from August 31, 1655. The commissary (someone appointed to do a particular task) rode up and down the length of the colony calling the settlers to take up arms and defend the colony against the Dutch force that was about to attack Fort Christina, the present site of Wilmington. The area now known as the State of Delaware was a Swedish colony. This colony was called the "Three Lower Counties" of the William Penn domain.
Earlier, the Swedes had relied entirely on professional soldiers to protect the colony and, except for former soldiers who had remained as colonists, the citizens had no preparation for the military duties they were suddenly called upon to perform. The colonists' lack of military training allowed the Dutch to easily defeat the settlers. However, the occasion is significant as the first time in Delaware that the citizen-militia was called on for military service.
When the State of Delaware was established, there were few provisions for peacetime training. Even when pirate raids threatened the safety of coastal towns on the Delaware, Quaker opposition to warlike activities dominated the combined legislature of Pennsylvania and Delaware and prevented any action.
However, citizens of the "Three Lower Counties" took matters into their own hands and volunteered for additional training. It was, in large measure, the desire of Delawareans for an effective trained militia that eventually resulted in the existence of Delaware as a separate state.
According to English law, able-bodied males (aged 18 to 45) were organized into units (called common militia) based on the geographical location of their homes. Among the men liable for military service in the colonial wars, there were some who saw the need for additional training if they were to be effective against professional French troops and their Indian allies. Many who saw this need volunteered to train beyond the minimum requirements of the militia law.
Because they volunteered for extra training, and also because they volunteered to serve outside their own colonies (the common militia could only be called out if an enemy actually invaded the colony), these troops became known as volunteer militia, or Volunteers. Sometimes they were called uniformed militia to distinguish them from the common militia, which did not wear uniforms.
Besides this voluntary training, the settlers had to have training according to English law to provide for the nation's defense. The soldiers of the full-time army were fined if they did not attend training. The volunteer army was for the defense of the state, as it is still today.
It was these volunteers who carried Delaware's colors in the five pre-revolutionary wars. It is from these early Delaware volunteer militia units that our modern Delaware National Guard is descended. . The presence of this militia later helped to insure Delaware’s independence as a separate colony of the three lower counties of Pennsylvania.
War of Independence
In the War of Independence the Delaware militia distinguished itself out of proportion to its size. Colonel John Haslet formed the Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army in January 1776. It saw its first action at the Battle of Long Island in August of the same year. Fresh from its training camp, it established a reputation for all future members to uphold by its magnificent conduct in the face of a British force that outnumbered it 10 to 1. With the Maryland Con¬tinentals, it maintained its lines for four hours in the face of withering artillery fire, and then threw back an assault of eight battle hardened British regiments, including the crack Black Watch. When the order finally came to withdraw, it retired in good order with its colors and prisoners through a supposedly impassable swamp back to the American defenses, where it was commended by Washington himself.
Its further service in the Revolution reads like a roll call of important battles White Plains, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, Paulus Hook and Monmouth in the northern theater, then south for the battles of Camden, Cow¬pens, Hobkirk's Hill, Ninety Six and Eutaw Springs, Guilford Courthouse, and, represented by a recruit detachment, the siege of Yorktown. The regiment's losses at Camden were so heavy that it was reorganized as a single company under Robert Kirkwood, one of the outstanding small unit leaders of the war, and attached to a Maryland regiment formed from the remnants of two brigades. Colonel "Light Horse Harry" Lee summed up the Delaware Regiment's almost eight years of continuous fighting in a single sentence: "No regiment in the Army surpassed it in soldiership."
Following the Revolution, veterans of the Delaware Regiment reorganized the volunteer militia and carried on the regimental tradition through separate volunteer companies of light infantry, artillery, and cavalry attached to organizations of the common militia. These members bought their own uniforms, horses, and even bought their own artillery pieces.
In the War of 1812 all Delaware volunteer units saw service at Lewes, where they comprised the bulk of force that drove off a British naval squadron seeking control of the Delaware River.
Captain Donn Devine in his booklet, “The Delaware National Guard, A Historical Sketch”, notes that, in the Mexican War, though the government would not accept Volunteer companies as such from Delaware, the Delaware Guardsmen were not content to stay at home. After much red tape, a state wide composite unit was finally accepted as a company in a new Regular Army regiment, the Eleventh Infantry, and went off to Mexico with it. After some action around Vera Cruz, they went on to the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, where the 11th's losses were so heavy it won the name "Bloody 11th." The Delaware unit did not escape this fate; only a handful of men returned. Chapultapec was immortalized in the Marine Corps hymn “From the halls of Montezuma”, but there were almost twice as many Delaware volunteers (80) there as U.S. Marines (46).
Despite their losses in the Mexican Campaign the Volunteer spirit did not die out. As the Civil War began in 1860, five companies had been reorganized. The following Spring they once more were organized into a regiment and entered Federal service as the First Delaware Infantry Volunteers.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln called on the Governor for the detachment of one regiment and Delaware had no common or enrolled militia, only volunteers. Governor Burton, the neutralist governor of a border state, correctly but misleadingly replied to the President that he had no militia. He recommended the formation of additional volunteer companies under state law. Volunteers could now offer their services to fill the state's quota of troops.
One Wilmington volunteer company, the National Guards (198 Artillery) was so anxious for action they didn't wait for the formation of a Delaware unit but volunteered for service with the 24th Pennsylvania Regiment which was ready to leave for the front.
Other volunteer units reestablished the State's regiment - the First Delaware. Honors won by the regiment are proudly carried on their organizational colors.
At Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the regiment was cited in official reports for its outstanding performance. Three days into the Battle of Gettysburg the Delawares took the full fury of Confederate Generals Pickett and Pettigrew. Much of the credit belongs to the Delaware regiment for bringing Pickett to a halt at the "high water mark of the Confederacy." At Gettysburg, as part of the Il Corps near the "Bloody Angle," they went into battle under a colonel, and came out under a first lieutenant, so heavy were their losses.
The regiment went through the Wilderness campaign, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg. When their three year enlistments expired the two regiments combined into the First Delaware Veteran Volunteer Regiment made up of men who reenlisted "for the duration." Eleven streamers on the regimental colors tell the tale of their four years in the Civil War Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettys¬burg, Virginia 1863, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Appomattox.
A New Century
In 1894, the General Assembly designated the Delaware troops of the militia as the “National Guard of Delaware”. At this time it was stronger as a social organization than as a disciplined military force. The Spanish-American War revealed these weaknesses once again. In the Spanish American War, the regiment volunteered as soon as war was declared, but much to the disappointment of the men, they failed to see action in that war, for the first time in the outfit's 122 year history. The encampments of 1889-1890 were held at Brandywine Springs.
The Dick Act of 1903 for the first time, provided federal funds for training and later authorized Guardsmen to serve overseas. In 1902 the Delaware National Guard consisted of one regiment of infantry, of seven companies and a band with 28 officers commanding 322 men. A year before, the entire outfit participated in President McKinley’s Inauguration. A new company was formed in Newark, Company “E” after the Bridgeville unit was mustered out. The summer of 1902 and again in1904 they camped near historic Cooch’s Bridge and indulged in drills, rifle practice, and social intercourse wearing their broad-brimmed campaign hats.
Two Battalions were sent to Deming New Mexico in July 1916 for border patrol duties during the Pancho Villa border incursion incident, known as the Punitive expedition to Mexico. They were led by Major William E. Lank and Major J. Warner Reed. This deployment proved to be valuable experience for the First World War. With the rest of the National Guard, the First Delaware went to New Mexico in 1916, where it received the seasoning that was to pay off in World War I. It was instrumental in developing the army truck as a useful weapon of war during the campaign.
Of the men who received their first military training in the ranks of the Delaware battalions, the most famous is Lt. Gen. John W. (Iron Mike) O'Daniel, USA (ret.), who was a private and later supply sergeant in Newark's Company E. Among the officers were two later adjutants general of Delaware, J. A. Ellison and William Berl, Jr., and a future commander of the Delaware regiment, John P. LeFevre.
By early 1917 the situation was well under control, and the Guardsmen returned to their homes. Residents of Wilmington recalled the memorable "welcome home" banquet at the Hotel DuPont on Feb. 7, 1917, the largest ever held up to that time in Wilmington. Only a month after its return, it was in Federal service again.
The Great War
Released from service on the Mexican Border in the Spring of 1917, the First Delaware Regiment enjoyed only the briefest respite before being called to federal service once again in April 1917 as America declared war on Germany. Some of the officers who were to lead the 198th Coast Artillery in World War II had just started the climb up through the enlisted ranks including Brig. Gen. George J. Schulz and Lt. Cols. S. B. I. Duncan and Henry C. Ray. Delaware's future State Director of Selective Service, Brig. Gen. Harry B. Van Sciver, was a second lieutenant in Company C. Many individual recruits were scattered throughout the American Expeditionary Force, and only one unit can fairly be called a Delaware unit, the Fifty-ninth Pioneer Infantry. Under the leadership of Colonel J. Warren Reed, they assembled at the Rifle Range near New Castle until being moved to Camp McClellan, Alabama in October 1917.
After further duties at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and a visit by Delaware governor Townsend, they embarked for France on the U.S.S. Leviathan in August, 1918. They were assigned to the First Army Area.Companies A and F were engaged in road building and maintenance; Company B operated a concrete block factory; Company E and H did general construction; Company G was a camouflage unit. Companies C,D,I and M worked on water supply, building and operating reservoirs, treatment plants and pipelines; Companies K and L built and repaired railways.
The Third Battalion-Companies I,K,L, and M-did its work in the Argonne forest at the height of the battle, building their water and railway systems under almost continuous air raids and shell fire, including gas shells. This is commemorated on the colors of the present day Delaware National Guard descendants of the Fifty-ninth - the 198th Signal Battalion-by a rainbow-hued battle streamer for Meuse-Argonne. Between the Wars
At the conclusion of the Great War the Fifty-ninth Pioneer Infantry was assigned to pick up munitions and supplies left by the Germans after the armistice was signed. Arriving home in the spring of 1919 the Fifty-ninth was disembarked at Hoboken, New Jersey. About 9191 men from Delaware served in World War I and about 2000 of them were with the Fifty-ninth Pioneer Infantry.
This left the state without a military organization. The National Guard Bureau allotted Delaware one battalion of infantry and two companies of coast artillery. By 1921, the 198th Coast Artillery (anti-aircraft) had a complement of 38 officers and 717 enlisted men. The 261st Coast Artillery was formed in 1924 with Battery A at Laurel with three officers and 65 enlisted men. In 1936 Battery B was activated at Georgetown and Batter C of Dover followed in 1940.
In 1928 the Delaware National Guard opened its military reservation at Bethany Beach. The organization began the peacetime routine of regular summer encampments and drills as they attempted to rebuild and train. The 198th Coast Artillery twice won the Coast Artillery Association trophy as the top National Guard outfit in the country during this period.
By 1940 strength had increased to 1,369 including 501 new recruits following the declaration of emergency by President Roosevelt in September 1939. The National Guard Bureau had authorized a 69% increase so the personnel on the eve of World War II would be 1800 men in the 198th Coast Artillery and 876 in the 261st Coast Artillery and a total of 2,698 statewide. Both units were called to active service by President Roosevelt prior to Pearl Harbor in September 1940. At the end of the summer of 1941, the 198th moved to Fort Ontario, N. Y., Thirty six hours after Pearl Harbor, they had packed and loaded equipment, drawn ammunition, made a motor march of 300 miles on icy roads, and had set up tactical positions to defend the Pratt and Whitney aircraft factory at East Hartford, Conn. It was a remarkable feat, and a tribute to the regiment's training.
World War II
After Pearl Harbor, word came that the regiment was to move overseas, and on January 16, 1942, it left for Charleston, S. C., the port of embarkation. The 198th was the first United States unit to leave for overseas after the outbreak of war, another tribute to its superb training and the high regard in which it was held.
The first station overseas was greeted with delight. It was the island of Bora Bora, known for security purposes as "Bobcat Island." The regiment spent a year there, fortifying the island against the probability that the Japanese drive might not be slowed down before it reached the Society Islands.
In January, 1943, the 198th moved to Efate, in the New Hebrides, and in October to Guadalcanal. The regiment as a unit came to an end in February 1944, when it was reorganized. Most of the original Delaware members of the regiment had returned to the United States to attend OCS, to train replacements, or to organize new units. More than one quarter of the regiment's enlisted men won commissions.
Delaware's 261st Coast Artillery Battalion was a harbor defense unit, charged with defending the Delaware Bay. Shortly after entering Federal service, it went into "temporary" bivouac on the sand dunes at Cape Henlopen.
Before the battalion was through, the bivouac had become the $20,000,000 Fort Miles, the most modern and best equipped coast defense installation on the Atlantic Coast, and the 261st played a major part in setting up and manning the fort. As a unit, the 261st did not see action in World War II, but by late 1943, most of the original members had been transferred out to serve as cadre personnel for the many new field artillery units being trained for the invasion of Europe. Almost all of the men of the 261st saw overseas service as individuals before the war was over.
To replace the National Guard while it was in Federal service, a State Guard was organized in early 1941, and under command of Colonel J. Paul Heinel, it rendered dedicated and effective service until 1947, when a reorganized National Guard could resume responsibility. Originally organized as a single battalion, it was later expanded to a regiment of two battalions - eight companies - made up of men too old or young for active military service, or with minor disabilities that kept them from Army service. At annual camps from 1942 to 1946, the State Guard continually won praise from Army Service Command representatives for its military proficiency.
After the War, the Delaware Guard began reorganizing in June 1946 with the 198th Anti- Aircraft Artillery group headquarters, and the 736th and 945th AAA Battalions. They added an Air unit in September 1946, the 142nd Fighter Squadron, which soon after came under the Air Force. (See “Delaware Air National Guard, a separate Arcadia publication). In 1949 the Delaware Guard expanded to brigade strength adding HQ 261st AAA Brigade, the 160th AAA group and two battalions.
By the time World War II ended, all State enlistments in the National Guard had expired. The difficult task of reorganizing began in June 1946 and 15 months later, the Guard had fully organized the 198th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group Headquarters and the 736th and 945th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalions. In 1946 the Delaware Air Guard was organized as the 142nd Fighter Squadron and was a separate State service.
In 1949, the Delaware Army Guard was authorized to expand to brigade strength. In June 1950 North Korea moved south across the 38th Parallel and the United States was at war again. The reorganization was underway when the Korean War erupted. The 736th AAA battalion and several smaller units were called to federal service, about one third of the Delaware Army National Guard reported for active duty. The 736th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion was at summer camp when word came of its order into Federal service. About one-third of the Delaware Army National Guard went on active duty.
The 736th served at Fort Meade, Maryland, where with its 90mm guns, it became one of the first units in the newly- established Air Defense of Baltimore and Washington. By the time the unit was returned to the State in 1952, few of its original members were still with it. Most had been transferred out and many saw combat service in Korea with other units under the policy of individual replacement then in effect.
Throughout the Cold War much reorganization, expansion and consolidation occurred in Guard units, especially in Delaware. Initially, two new anti-aircraft battalions, the 197th in Smyrna and the 945th in Laurel, were formed in the mid 1950s to meet these new challenges. In addition, two of Delaware's six battalions received the new self-propelled twin-40mm "Dusters," and two other battalions received the 75mm "Skysweeper" guns. At this time the 116th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital was organized in Wilmington.
Then, in 1959, a major reorganization, based on the "Pentomic" division structure took place within the Guard. All of Delaware's artillery units once again became part of the old regiment, and the 198th Artillery (First Delaware) became the regimental headquarters. The 156th Anti-aircraft battalion was redesignated as First Battalion, 198th Artillery. Their headquarters battery, which dated back to the Revolution, is the senior unit in the state.
The 1959 reorganization increased the need for combat service support troops, causing the 197th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion to reorganize as the 109th Ordnance Battalion with a transportation helicopter maintenance company.
The Delaware Guard continued to fulfill state missions despite increasing cold war demands. In March 1962, over 2,000 Guardsmen were called upon for rescue, security and recovery operations in the devastated coastal areas of Kent and Sussex Counties. In addition, the DEARNG's "Dusters" were used to get through several severe snow storms during that time period.
Then, in 1962, the Army Guard's five air defense outfits were again reorganized, this time into automatic weapon battalions. From this point on, the National Guard furnished not only all air defense for Army divisions, but also the automatic weapon capabilities.
Although not called to active duty for the Vietnam War, Delaware Army Guard members fulfilled vital roles which made possible the heavy commitment of active forces there. From the start of the build-up in Vietnam, numbers of individual Delaware Guard members, especially aviators, volunteered for active duty.
The first unit contribution came in the fall of 1964, when the Army was testing the concept of the Airmobile Division in response to requirements from Vietnam. Since the Army had no active "Duster" units, Delaware's Second Battalion, 198th Artillery, was called on to support the Army's 82d Airborne Division in a full-scale field test of the concept. Successful results of the test led to the almost immediate organization of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and its deployment to Vietnam.
Early in 1966, a number of Army Guard enlisted specialists volunteered for six months service as instructors at Fort Bliss, Texas, when the Army found it lacked men capable of training new personnel on the intricacies of the M-42 "Duster". In this select force were seven Delaware units - the five batteries of the First Battalion, and 198th Artillery, comprising about one-third of the Delaware Army Guard strength. Other Delaware units contributed to their readiness by furnishing fully trained replacements to the Selected Reserve Force units when necessary.
Following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, riots broke out in 19 major American cities. Some 68,000 National Guardsmen and 22,600 Army troops were called upon to suppress the outbreaks. In its first large- scale state activation, on April 9, 1968, the Delaware National Guard was called to state duty to quell civil disturbance and violence in the city of Wilmington, Delaware. The unit was released from state duty after several weeks. However, many individuals remained on state duty through 20 January 1969.
With the end of conscription and the onset of the all volunteer force Delaware faced recruiting and retention challenges shared by the rest of America’s military as it downsized and licked its wounds over the Southeast Asian War and the rebuilding years to follow. For the first time, Delaware hired and employed full-time recruiters and later offered enlistment bonuses. The all-volunteer force was implemented in January 1973 by Secretary of Defense Laird, who terminated induction of draftees. It forced two major social transformations on the National Guard. First it became a racially integrated organization because of pressure to admit blacks and the need to secure additional manpower. Second, it included women on a significant scale for the first time.
The Gulf War and Beyond
As the Total Force policy began to engage the National Guard found itself increasingly asked to do more than stand as a force in reserve. The utility of this initiative came into play during the Gulf War. In November 1990, the 249th Engineer Detachment and the 736th Supply and Service Battalion of the Delaware Army National Guard were placed on alert status and very shortly thereafter placed on active duty to participate in Operation Desert Shield.
The 249th was a 70-person unit consisting of carpenters, electricians, brick masons, plumbers, and pipe fitters whose mission was to provide facilities engineering at fixed installations. Their mission in Saudi Arabia was to maintain a military base camp with the number of personnel reaching 25,000.
The 736th had over 60 personnel who provided services to troops in the field. They distributed supplies and food, controlled critical inventory and managed logistics for King Khalid Military City.
In November 1990, the 249th Engineer Detachment and the 736th Supply and Service Battalion of the Delaware Army National Guard were placed on alert status and very shortly thereafter placed on active duty to participate in Operation Desert Shield.
The 249th was a 70-person unit consisting of carpenters, electricians, brick masons, plumbers, and pipe fitters whose mission was to provide facilities engineering at fixed installations. Their mission in Saudi Arabia was to maintain a military base camp with the number of personnel reaching 25,000. They built and repaired facilities along with minor road and construction work. After the war, the 249th completely overhauled an abandoned recreation center. Thousands of soldiers were able to reap the benefits of the 249th's efforts in the center.
The 736th had over 60 personnel who provided services to troops in the field. They distributed supplies and food, controlled critical inventory and managed logistics for King Khalid Military City. This included operating Log Base Bravo, post exchanges, mess halls and the clothing facility.
The War in Afghanistan commenced on October 7, 2001 with the purpose of eliminating al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, as well as securing the capture of Osama bin Laden.
The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003 with the US/UK led invasion against Saddam Hussein's terror based regime. Since then, the Delaware National Guard (DNG) has vigilantly supported Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Soldiers and Airmen from all across the state answered their country's call once again.
Delaware army and air units/individuals supported Operation Iraqi Freedom. The first of these units to arrive in Baghdad was the 249th Engineer Detachment. The 249th was federally mobilized from February 2003- April 2004. The detachment supported reconstruction efforts throughout the capital city, Baghdad, Iraq.
The 249th Engineers completed their mission without casualties, in-spite of small-arms fire rocket, and mortar attacks. The Delaware National Guard is in an almost continuous state of employment serving as an operational force for the United States Army. They have deployed around the world in nation-building exercises, peacekeeping missions and in support roles for ground combat. They are poised to continue a tradition of service over 350 years long on behalf of the state of Delaware and the United States of America.
The Delaware Army National Guard continues to make a contribution to the defense of the United States on a continuing basis.
Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins Jr. (DEANG Ret) is a third generation Delaware Guardsman who served in the National Guard for over 37 years.
Would you like to know more? We recommend the following book available at local Delaware bookstores and from Arcadia Publishing.
Delaware Army National Guard The Delaware National Guard traces its roots to 1655, when the Swedish Colonial government formed a militia to defend itself. That tradition carried through Dutch and then English control of the colony. The militia served in all five French and Indian Wars and then distinguished itself during the Revolutionary War as the First Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army, earning its "Blue Hen" nickname. The Delaware militia continued to serve in every major war, and currently it remains in the forefront. Images of America: Delaware Army National Guard presents images of this fabled organization that survived from the Spanish-American War to the present. The people, places, equipment, and facilities of the Delaware National Guard are illustrated in this compilation of historic photographs from the collection of the Delaware Military Heritage and Education Foundation.