ARLINGTON, Va. – In a letter to his son in 1944, Gen. George S. Patton Jr. said: "To be a successful Soldier, you must know the history. … Weapons change, but man who uses them changes not at all."
History and traditions in the U.S. Army are a cornerstone of the American Soldier's culture. The heroic actions of the past connect the Soldiers of today to the ideals and values carried over through hundreds of years of service to the nation.
To help connect the Soldiers of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New York National Guard, to their history, Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Markle, the senior enlisted leader of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, hosted a tour of Arlington National Cemetery for 30 New York Soldiers in Virginia on Feb. 14.
The Soldiers visited the gravesites of New York National Guard Soldiers who distinguished themselves in the past and are buried at Arlington.
The goal, Markle explained, was "to educate and give our Soldiers some professional development in the area of the 27th Division and 27th Brigade history and the sacrifices paid by several members of our lineage.
"I feel it's extremely important for them to have that connection to their history because the names of the Soldiers don't change, their character doesn't change, just the technology does," added Markle, a Freeport, New York, native.
The 27th Brigade Soldiers are deployed to Washington, D.C., to support civil authorities. They were among the most junior of the more than 500 New York Soldiers now in the nation's capital.
The Feb. 14 tour of the national cemetery began with a visit to the grave of Pfc. Bernard Gavrin, a 27th Infantry Division Soldier who went missing in action during the Battle of Saipan in World War II. His remains were discovered 70 years later and he was finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in 2014.
While at Gavrin's grave, Markle discussed the history of the battle of Saipan and the role of the New York National Guard during the campaign, which resulted in 2,949 U.S. killed in action, making the battle one of the most costly in the Pacific War.
Next, the Soldiers visited the final resting place of Sgt. Henry Johnson, a member of New York National Guard's 369th Infantry Regiment during World War I. Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during a battle with German soldiers in the Argonne Forest of France, Feb. 12, 1919.
Before visiting the final resting places of other New York Medal of Honor recipients, the 27th Brigade Soldiers visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to observe the time-honored changing of the guard ceremony. There, Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard," stand to watch over the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
"My favorite part (of the visit) was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," said Spc. Cyrille Tchonga Nouka, an infantryman with Bravo Company and a Plattsburgh, New York, resident. "Being next to the tomb and seeing the ceremony, that was really huge for me."
Learning about the history of the Army and its Soldiers is especially beneficial for Soldiers like him, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Cameroon in Central Africa just three years ago, Nouka said.
"It's important to me because today I'm a member of the team, and learning the history encourages me and empowers me to be the best in my service to the Army," he said. "I'm really proud to be a part of it."
After witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Soldiers visited the graves of Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. Alan L. Eggers and Maj. Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan.
Select Soldiers from the brigade researched the Medal of Honor recipients before their visit and discussed their history with fellow Guardsmen at each stop.
The discussion about Donovan was led by Spc. Rory Endsley, an infantryman with Bravo Company from Pulaski, New York.
"(Donovan) didn't want to conform to most of the times," Endsley said. "When he was in the Meuse–Argonne offensive, he didn't strip off his rank insignia even though that's what you're supposed to do at that time as an officer because of snipers."
Donovan, who would go on to serve as the head of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, received the Medal of Honor for his actions while in command of the 165th Infantry Regiment, 42nd "Rainbow" Division when he personally led an attack on a strong enemy position near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, Oct. 14-15, 1918.
Before departing the cemetery, the group visited the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy to view the eternal flame burning at the head of the fallen president's final resting place.
Markle said he hopes trips like the one to Arlington will motivate Soldiers to connect to their history and find inspiration in the actions of those who came before.
"I hope going forward that they look at what unit they're assigned to and be more inquisitive about the history and the sacrifices that other members paid," Markle said. "I hope before we go back home, they make more trips here and try to visit more graves of famous Soldiers from the past and even look into and research to see if some of their unit members are buried here from past wars."
Markle said he wants his Soldiers to learn about the hardships and sacrifices made by those who served decades ago.
"It's important these Soldiers never forget, and for them to see the sacrifices that came before them," he said. "And maybe they might look at it like, 'You know what, maybe what I'm doing today might not be as hard as what someone else had to do, and I might have to endure more sacrifice.'"
While at the cemetery, Endsley said he had already begun to learn the lessons Markle wants his Soldiers to understand.
"It was an eye-opener to see some of the things that these people did," Endsley said. "To see the hardships they endured and when we're out in the field, and we feel like we're struggling, to look back at these people and see how they felt and the conditions they were in.
"It teaches us where we come from," he added. "It teaches us why we're here and gives us more of a reason to fight and keep on going."