KINDERHOOK, N.Y. - Two dozen New York Army National Guard Soldiers honored the nation's eighth president, Martin Van Buren, during a cold and blustery winter morning in his Hudson Valley hometown, on the 234th birthday of his birth on Monday, Dec. 5.
New York Army National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Raymond Shields, and New York National Guard Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski, joined local residents in honoring Van Buren by placing a wreath on his grave on behalf of President Barack Obama.
A wreath from the sitting president is traditionally placed at the gravesites of former presidents on the anniversary of their birth. Placing the wreath at Van Buren's grave in the Dutch Reformed Cemetery in Kinderhook is the responsibility of the New York National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters.
Shields and Piwowarski were at Van Buren's grave site by a color guard of New York Army National Guard Soldiers, an Honor Guard and a Guard chaplain, as well as a crowd of residents that included school children from Kinderhook Ichabod Crane Elementary School.
"We are so grateful to have the National Guard here to honor President Van Buren and to acknowledge what he stood for and the great patriot he was," said area Congressman Chris Gibson.
Gibson, a Kinderhook resident and retired Army colonel recalled being a private in the New York Army National Guard 35 years ago and standing at attention to mark Van Buren's 199th birthday.
"I remember being with the Honor Guard and having the privilege of standing in line with fellow Soldiers to recognize our former president's birthday," Gibson explained. "I'm still thankful for that opportunity."
The Fourth grade students stood patiently in the chilly temperature, to watch the wreath laying and recount significant events throughout Van Buren's life leading up to his presidency.
Children from this small Hudson Valley village participate in the birthday anniversary each year.
"It's an honor for the New York Army National Guard to represent President Obama at the ceremony to mark President Martin Van Buren's birthday and to help remember our eighth President," Shields said.
"It's especially heartwarming to listen to the children recite important facts about President Van Buren's life and times," Shields said.
"Having a President born and raised in your hometown isn't something a lot of folks can say," boasted Jane Miller, a Kinderhook resident. "We're very proud and it's important that our children keep his memory and accomplishments alive by learning about our history," Miller explained.
Van Buren, who served in the White House from 1837 to 1841, was born in Kinderhook on Dec. 5, 1782. He was the first president who was not born a British subject.
Van Buren, who was nicknamed the Red Fox of Kinderhook, because of his red hair and political acumen, served as New York's governor, as secretary of state, as vice president, and played a key role in the creation of the Democratic Party.
He was also known as Old Kinderhook and reportedly contributed the term "OK" to the English language because he scrawled those initials on papers he approved of.
After two unsuccessful runs for president after his first term he retired to his Lindenwald estate outside Kinderhook and died there on July 24, 1862 and was buried in the family plot at the Kinderhook Dutch Reformed Cemetery.
The laying of the presidential wreath is also accompanied by wreaths from the village and town of Kinderhook, the local garden club, which cares for the Van Buren grave site, the National Park Service, which maintains the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site here, and the Friends of Lindenwald, a group which raises funds to help preserve Van Buren's home.