A Tradition: National Guard Marches To Train Station Since the Civil War, a National Guard unit in Bellefonte, Pa. has marched to the local train station to deploy. Soldiers in the 2nd battalion, 112th regiment who are headed to Iraq are keeping the tradition alive — even though passenger trains no longer stop at the Bellefont station.
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A Tradition: National Guard Marches To Train Station

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A Tradition: National Guard Marches To Train Station

A Tradition: National Guard Marches To Train Station

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In small town America, the deployment of National Guard troops to Iraq and Afghanistan has a big impact. Members of the Guard are not just soldiers, but firefighters, teachers, grocery store owners, people who are sorely missed in close-knit communities. So this week, when a National Guard company left Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, the soldiers and their community decided to say a proper farewell. WPSU's Cynthia Berger reports.

CYNTHIA BERGER: The Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade deploys to Iraq this winter. But first, the various units will cycle through training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. This week it was time for the 2nd Battalion 112th Regiment to fly south. But Charger Company, as the unit is called, decided not to board the airplane until they'd followed tradition.

Sergeant MATTHEW NEDROW (Charger Company, Stryker Brigade, National Guard): The unit was organized during the Civil War. And as far as I can tell, every major deployment we've had, they've marched to the train station.

BERGER: On a sparkling September morning, Sergeant Matt Nedrow stands before rows of men in camouflage fatigues behind the Bellefonte Armory. These days, the town's vintage Victorian train station only sees the occasional excursion train. But at 10:30 sharp, Charger Company steps off from the armory grounds, marching to the train.

Sgt. NEDROW: Company!

CHARGER COMPANY: Platoon!

Sgt. NEDROW: Attention! Right...

CHARGER COMPANY: Right.

Sgt. NEDROW: Face. Forward...

CHARGER COMPANY: Forward.

Sgt. NEDROW: March. Left, left, left, right…

BERGER: The Bald Eagle Area High School Marching Band falls into line with baton twirlers in gold spangles.

(Soundbite of marching band)

BERGER: Specialist Brian O'Neil, a tall Penn State sophomore, has the honor of carrying the company flag.

Specialist BRIAN O'NEIL (Flag Carrier, Charger Company, Stryker Brigade, National Guard): It's good to keep up tradition, you know what I mean? And it's good to honor that tradition.

BERGER: Four veterans from VFW Post 1600 serve as Color guard.

Mr. ANDY HILLENGAS(ph) (Veteran, VFW Post 1600): We've officially adopted this unit. So they've asked us to lead the parade.

BERGER: Andy Hillengas served in Korea. He says Post 1600 will be sending Charger Company lots of care packages in the months to come.

So, what are you thinking about when you see these guys go out?

Mr. HILLENGAS: Well, I'm thinking, I hope they all can come back.

BERGER: On the upper end of Bishop Street, employees from a grocery store line the curb in matching red aprons, waving American flags. Bellefonte High School is on Bishop Street, and all the students are here, middle schoolers too. Stephen Pollack(ph), a middle school teacher's assistant, is surrounded by kids waving flags.

Mr. STEPHEN POLLACK (Teacher's Assistant, Bellefonte Middle School): They served during the Vietnam era, and we didn't get much of a parade. So I'm really proud about this.

BERGER: Beyond the high school, Bishop Street swoops down into town. Here, the street is lined with Victorian houses, many draped with bunting or flying flags.

Mr. JIM WILSON(ph) (Veteran, World War II; Resident, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania): January 1941, I did that. I marched down the street to the station to get to the train and ended up at Camp Shelby, Mississippi...

BERGER: Jim Wilson and his wife, Dale(ph), parked their Sedan head out to watch the parade from comfortable seats.

Ms. DALE WILSON: Here they come, Jeff.

Mr. WILSON: Here they come.

Ms. WILSON: Yeah, that's what you looked like.

(Soundbite of car horn)

Ms. WILSON: I feel bad when I see them go, though. I never approved of this war. We had no reason to go over there.

(Soundbite of car horn)

BERGER: The men march two abreast, the better for family members to see their soldiers.

(Soundbite of applause)

BERGER: They make the turn from Bishop Street to Allegheny...

Sgt. NEDROW: Company, halt!

BERGER: In front of the Greek Revival courthouse with its white columns.

Sgt. NEDROW: Forward...

CHARGER COMPANY: Forward.

Sgt. NEDROW: March. Left, right...

BERGER: Finally, at the foot of the High Street hill, just before the train station, they pass under an arch formed by two fire truck ladders and come to a halt.

Sgt. NEDROW: Company, halt.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sgt. NEDROW: Left...

CHARGER COMPANY: Left.

Sgt. NEDROW: Face.

(Soundbite of speech)

Unidentified Man: Although we at times, God forgive us, forget these sacrifices made by our troops. ..TEXT: BERGER: After speeches by local dignitaries, a picnic in the park awaits the men of Charger Company and their families. The real goodbye comes the next morning as the troops leave for Camp Shelby.

(Soundbite of national anthem)

BERGER: For NPR News, this is Cynthia Berger in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

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