Every March 17, soldiers of the “Fighting 69th” have been the first faces seen by parade goers in New York City, but how did the battalion lock up the best assignment of St. Patrick’s Day?

The soldiers were originally brought in to protect the parade from violence and hate from the anti-Irish Native American groups. The group was first a heavily Irish militia who volunteered to protect the parade in 1851. The presence of the battalion became a tradition that has stood the test of time.

"I don't know if words can ever truly capture the pride and humbling emotions associated with leading the regiment during the parade," said James Gonya, the battalion’s commander. 

"It's a tradition, like a family reunion," said another battalion member, Jerieme Murrel.

The group proudly paves the path for the parade while paying respect to their own history.  The members wear a boxwood on the uniform as a reminder of the regiment's efforts against the Confederates at the Battle of Fredericksburg. 

 "Every aspect of the day is steeped in tradition which relates to either the Irish Catholic beginnings of the regiment or the history since then,” said commander Gonya.  

The officers of the 69th carry a blackthorn wood fighting stick that comes from Ireland.   The sticks are considered the mark of an Irish leader. 

For the past 24 years two Irish Wolfhounds, the 69th’s mascot, have joined the march and are apart of the tradition. 

They “fighting 69th” will first attend a private mass then kick off the parade at 11:00am on Saturday, March 16th.

New York Army National Guards 1st Battalion 69th infantry leading the New York St Patrick's Day ParadeGoogle Images