On July 2, Hollidaysburg American Legion Post 516 hosted a Civil War battle flag rededication ceremony for Company M – 62nd Infantry Regiment. The ceremony was held at the regiment’s monument, located in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg National Military Park. Over 250 people were in attendance to observe the event, which was co-sponsored by the National Park Service. The purpose of the ceremony was to rededicate the Battle Flag and to pay tribute to the men who served in Company M, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in the struggle.
As a point of reference, the battle flag has been in the possession of the Hollidaysburg borough and/or school district since it was presented by Private Michael Halloran on behalf of the six remaining members of Company M in 1909. Through years of exposure and age the flag, had begun to deteriorate. Approximately two years ago, several groups within the community, including Post 516, joined together to restore the flag and provide a suitable museum-quality acid-free archival frame. The group raised over $8,000 and the flag was restored in accordance with Smithsonian standards. At this point, Post 516 stepped in and offered to host two rededication ceremonies to honor the flag. The first ceremony would be in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg where Company M fought during the battle in July 1863. Upon conclusion of the ceremony the flag would be symbolically returned to the hometown in a “military convoy” escorted by the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Police Squad with two HUMVEEs as lead and trail vehicles. Upon arrival in Hollidaysburg, another dedication ceremony would be held for the townspeople reminiscent of the flag's original journey. This dedication concept was met with great enthusiasm by the Hollidaysburg blank holders, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Gettysburg National Military Park. As such, the plan was agreed upon and put in motion 154 years to the day from the fateful battle.
At the Wheatfield battlefield in Gettysburg at 10 a.m. on July 2, the 62nd Infantry Regiment Color Guard re-enactment group opened the ceremony by posting the colors. The men were wearing period uniforms of the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The color guard carried the National Colors, the regimental flag and guidon flanked by two guards as they marched out of the far side of the Wheatfield, as if they were ghosts from the past returning to honor the flag and those who served under her.
Park Ranger Chris Gwinn welcomed everyone and provided an overview of the battle and the role the 62nd Infantry Regiment played. Rebecca Culp, an alumnus of Hollidaysburg Area High School (HAHS), sang the national anthem a cappella with the crowd joining in, setting the tone for an interactive event. The anthem was followed by Bishop Michael Rhyne, bishop of the Allegany Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, providing the invocation and blessing. Reghan Fitch, a recent graduate of HAHS, dressed in a “period” hoop skirt, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Master of Ceremonies and Post 516 Commander Sam Dunkle opened the flag dedication portion of the ceremony with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln. Dunkle related that during Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address the president gave us a mandate to uphold with these words: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just a lasting peace among ourselves and all nations.” Dunkle stated that Lincoln was of course talking about finishing the Civil War and taking care of the veterans and their family members afterwards. Dunkle emphasized that we were upholding Lincoln’s mandate as we paid tribute to those who served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep our nation as one.
Special guests Timothy Breslin and Michael Halloran, direct descendants of Private Michael Halloran, had the honor of unveiling the battle flag. They stated: “On behalf of our great-great grandfather, Private Michael Halloran, and all the other men of Company M, 62nd Infantry Regiment, we present the restored battle flag for rededication on this hallowed ground of the Wheatfield on the 154th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. May we never forget those brave men who fought and died here to preserve our great Nation.” The assembled crowd gave the gentlemen a resounding round of applause as the battle flag was unveiled.
Amy Dodson, Hollidaysburg Area High School history teacher, shared some insights to the history of Company M and the soldiers who comprised the unit. Dr. Robert Gildea, superintendent of HASD, provided remarks on the story of the battle flag’s journey from being presented by the ladies of the town to the troops at a ball prior to the war, to how the flag found its place hanging in the library of the school.
The keynote speaker was Brigadier General Scott Perry, Assistant Adjutant General – Army, Pa. National Guard and United States Congressman from the 4th Pennsylvania District. Of note, BG Perry deployed with the 28th Infantry Division to Iraq from 2009 through 2010 where he successfully flew 44 combat missions during his tour. He started his remarks conveying that Company M was an all-volunteer unit from Blair County in Central Pennsylvania. He reminded us that those men willingly answered President Lincoln’s call to arms to preserve the Union. He opined how the soldiers of Company M saw action in every major engagement in the eastern theater of the war in places like Seven Days Battle, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and of course Gettysburg. He spoke about the sacrifices made by the soldiers and their heroic actions on that day. He stated: “The 62nd Regiment was engaged in some of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting on the battlefield. Words like uncommon valor, selfless service, and heroism are often used to describe their actions that took place here on that fateful day in July of 1863.” He went on to described what it might have been like to be there during the battle and the hardships the men endured. He emphasized how the men had volunteered to fight in the war and serve in the Army of the Potomac. BG Perry stated as a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, he was proud that their mission is to protect and defend our homeland. He added, in keeping with the tradition of the volunteers who answered President Lincoln’s call to arms to save the union, the National Guard performs its mission with an all-volunteer force consisting of 19K Soldiers and Airmen across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He stated: ”Like the soldiers of Company M, the National Guard stands ready and willing to go into harm’s way to protect our great nation regardless if the battlefield is here at home or abroad in some distant land.” The crowd was greatly moved and inspired by the General’s speech.
Upon the conclusion of BG Perry’s remarks, Culp once again returned to sing “America the Beautiful.” Her voice lifted over the battlefield with grace and poise, moving many to tears.
BG Perry, Dr. Gildea, Mayor John Stultz, and John Wessner, a teacher and reenactor portraying a Union Soldier, assisted in laying a wreath at the base of the 62nd Infantry Regiment’s monument. Bishop Michael Rhyne then moved forward and provided a blessing of the battle flag and monument by offering a prayer and sprinkling holy water on the flag, monument and the surrounding grounds. As one, the audience stood and rendered proper honors by saluting or placing their hand over your heart while Kirk Eichenlaub, a student, played Taps. Bishop Rhyne returned and provided the ceremony’s benediction providing a blessing to all. The 62nd Infantry Regiment Color Guard closed the ceremony by retiring the colors and marching off the field in to the distance.
As promised, the battle flag was returned in military convoy some 130 miles to Hollidaysburg where another ceremony took place on the Courthouse steps with some 150+ in attendance. “We have completed the mission, the flag is yours,” Sam Dunkle, Commander of American Legion Post 516, told the crowd gathered in front of the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg. It was fitting that the ceremonies remembering those sacrifices made so many years ago were held on the day marking the 154th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The flag now resides at the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library for the summer months and will be displayed in the High School Library while school is in session.
This event is an example of how the American Legion is serving and honoring veterans and working with the community to keep our American Military History in the hearts and minds of our citizens today and generations to come. American Legion Post 516 is very proud of our role in the restoration of the battle flag and the rededication ceremony. The post invites you to visit the battle flag if your travels find you in Central Pennsylvania. “For God and Country!”