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Annual Honorary First Defenders ceremony spotlights historic first response

A cold, brisk morning breeze and gray sky welcomed a moderate gathering of City of Allentown officials, Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers and members of the Honorary First Defenders in Allentown’s West Park April 18.

The occasion was to honor the Allentown (and other Lehigh Valley) soldiers who by answering President Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms in the beginning weeks of the Civil War, became known by the sobriquet, “The First Defenders.” They arrived in Washington, D.C. April 18, 1861.

Retired Master Sgt. Lucille Gross, first vice commander of the Honorary First Defenders, was the master of ceremonies for the annual event.

A color guard was provided by Air Force Junior ROTC students from Louis E. Dieruff High School in Allentown.

The lone Civil War-era American flag bearer accompanying the JROTC color guard was Civil War re-enactor Sgt. Gary Weaver.

West Park, between West Linden Street and West Turner Street and between North 15th Street and North West Street, Allentown, is the site of a monument representing Cpl. Ignatz Gresser.

Born in Malach, Germany, Gresser became a shoemaker in Allentown. He subsequently served with distinction at the Battle of Antietam and was later honored with the Medal of Honor.

The Honorary First Defenders is an organization who perpetuates the memory of these soldiers or “first defenders” of the Union at the beginning of the Civil War.

City of Allentown Parks and Recreation Director Mandy Tolino, representing Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, presented a proclamation to the Honorary First Defenders.

Lt. Col. Theodore Veresink opened the ceremony with an invocation.

Retired Sgt. First Class Michael Hoffman, the Honorary First Defender commander, welcomed the attendees and recited a history of the organization.

Retired Col. Robert Daday, USMCR, the second vice commander of Honorary First Defenders, called out the names of the Allen Infantry who gained immortality as the First Defenders.

Press Photos by Douglas Graves Retired Maj. Gen. Jerry Still, U.S. Air Force, helps lay a wreath at the foot of the memorial's pedestal in Allentown's West Park.
The color guard includes U.S. Air Force Junior ROTC students from Louis E. Dieruff High School, Allentown. The American flag in the rear is carried by Civil War re-enactor Sgt. Gary Weaver.
As the color guard renders honors, a soldier from the 213th Regional Support Group of the Pennsylvania National Guard executes a salute.