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BY COLIN MIXSON
Downtown celebrated America’s birthday with a bang!
A more-than-200-year-old state militia dedicated to protecting New York from the threat of British invasion fired off a thunderous barrage of artillery fire from The Battery in celebration of the 4th of July.
Lucky for New Jersey, the troops were shooting blanks, according to commander of the Veterans Corps of Artillery of the State of New York
“New Jersey would not have been pleased,” said Vice Commandant Ray Mechmann, “these certainly have the ability to fire over the bay.”
The Veterans Corps kicked off its ceremony with a brief march from the Coast Guard Administration Building to Castle Clinton, where the troops raised the stars and stripes and fired off the barrage.
But the real show occurred near the park’s Navy Memorial, where the corps fired fifty shots — one for each state in the Union — and kicked up a racket even louder than Downtown’s construction boom.
“They do make a good amount of noise,” Mechmann said.
The oldest military organization in New York State, the Veterans Corps of Artillery was formed in 1790 by veterans of George Washington’s Continental Army, and has commemorated the nation’s birthday with cannon and gunpowder on July 4th for 227 years — give or take a few.
In the early 1970s, the state took away the militia’s compliment of brass, 24-pound cannons, which — being more than 100 years old — officials decided they had “outlived their usefulness,” and the regiment was left without any guns for a while, according to Mechmann.
Fortunately, good old Uncle Sam came through with two 75 mm Pack Howitzers sometime in 1972–1973, and then four more in 1986, and the corps has unleashed a thunderous boom Downtown every July 4th since.
Two days before the Veterans Corps blasted its salute at The Battery, the Lower Manhattan Historical Society kicked off the week’s patriotic party on July 2 by giving out its 2017 Alexander Hamilton Immigrant Achievement Award over at Federal Hall on Wall Street to deserving international transplants following in the footsteps of the Caribbean-born founding father in making their adopted country a better place.
This year, the group honored Councilman Peter Koo, a Hong Kong native; Guillermo Linares, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who now heads the New York State High Education Services Corporation; James Neary, an Irish 57th Street restaurateur; and Chakanaka Watch, a Salvation Army pastor and radio personality born in Zimbabwe.
The Sunday ceremony was followed by historical re-enactors and storytellers celebrating the bicentennial of the Erie Canal. The Veterans Corps of Artillery then led a mini-parade with marching bands from the Richmond County Fife & Drum Corps and the Crimson Kings of the Chinatown School from Federal Hall down to Bowling Green and then on to the South Street Seaport, which the Erie Canal linked to the Midwest through the Great Lakes, connecting America’s unsettled interior with the rest of the world.