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In April 1861, in response to the call from President Abraham Lincoln, Allentown sent a company of Pennsylvania militia to Washington, D.C. It was one of the first to reach Washington. By their presence, they not only deterred the South from any plans they may have had to capture our Capitol, they also may have changed the course of the war itself. On April 17, 1861, 49 members of the Allen Infantry boarded a train in Allentown and headed for Harrisburg where they joined two other artillery units and an infantry and guard unit. The following morning, the five companies, totaling 476 men, left by train for Washington. In Baltimore, while marching from one railroad station to another, these men were stoned by Southern sympathizers. Thus the first blood was spilled from this bloody war. Among those injured was Ignatz Gresser from Allentown. Gresser was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in the battle of Antietam; he was the only Allentownian ever so honored. A statue in honor of him was erected in West Park. The men from Pennsylvania were the first to reach Washington. Their contribution is noted in a special resolution of the House of Representatives dated July 22, 1861, in which they rendered thanks to the Pennsylvanians “who passed through the mob at Baltimore and reached Washington on the 18th day of April, for the defense of the National Capital. Thus they came to be numbered among the “First Defenders”. This is how we got our name, The First Defenders”. The Honorary First Defenders is an organization of business and professional men and women dedicated to perpetuate the memory of the “The First Defenders” who responded to Lincoln’s call. Some of these men and women are former military personnel but includes anyone who wants to perpetuate this memory. The Honorary First Defenders assist the local unit of the National Guard by supporting them as well as many of the military units in the Lehigh Valley area who carry on the tradition of our famous forbearers. Our organization was first conceived in 1938 by Col C.J. Smith, the Commander of the 213th Regiment of the Coastal Artillery and Anti-aircraft Unit, and by BG Frank D. Beary, Former Adjutant General of Pennsylvania. During World War II, the Honorary First Defender members worked to meet some of the needs of the troops overseas. Supplies such as soap, stamped envelopes, writing paper, flashlights, cigarettes, and cigarette lighters were sent. Help was also provided for family support. Best of all, is the story of the sauerkraut and pork dinner served to 300 Allentown men, many of them Pennsylvania Germans, located between Algiers and Tunisia in April, 1943, compliments of the Honorary First Defenders of Allentown! This dinner was duplicated a few years ago for our troops in Desert Storm. We also help our local Military Units by contributing $1000 annually to each of our four services for amenities that could not be requisitioned through their normal supply channels.
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HONORARY FIRST DEFENDERS
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