In 1777, the second year of America’s War for Independence, British forces occupied Philadelphia and American officers were imprisoned inside Independence Hall where they were interrogated by British officers.
According to historians from the National Park Service, this marked the first and last time American and British military officers shared space inside the building’s hallowed halls in any official capacity.
That changed June 14 when Maj. Gen. Rodney Faulk, commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 99th Readiness Division, and Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, British defence attache to the United States, conducted a tour of the historic site.
“This auspicious occasion [marks] the first time in the history of our nation, according to historians, that we have a British officer – Air Vice-Marshal Smeath – along with Maj. General Faulk – an American officer – gathered together not as adversaries, but as friends and allies,” explained Dr. Paul McCullough III, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and member of the Penn & Franklin Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
“I think I’m the first British officer to be with American officers in this great area in an official capacity since the time that the British officers held the American officers as prisoners-of-war,” Smeath said.
“Air Vice-Marshal Smeath talked about our shared history, starting out as foes and ending up as friends,” Faulk said. “When you think about that, we’ve been friends and allies for over 100 years, starting in World War One.”
This historic visit to Independence Hall was the culmination of the AUSA’s annual celebration of Flag Day and the U.S. Army’s birthday.
“It’s special to be here in this shrine to our Constitution to celebrate our Army’s birthday and our Flag, the symbol of our nation,” said Eric Stetson, Penn & Franklin Chapter, AUSA. “Our Army evolves, and it changes and it grows, but we stay true and faithful to our core values.”
The day’s events began with a naturalization ceremony for 13 new U.S. citizens, held at the National Constitution Center and hosted by the Philadelphia Flag Day Association and the Betsy Ross House.
“As a nation, we don’t have a single history; each of us brings to it our own history,” said U.S. District Judge Joshua D. Wolson, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, prior to swearing in the new citizens. “And much like the Flag, those stories are sewn together into a single tapestry, which is collectively our nation’s history.
Guest speaker for the naturalization ceremony was Brig. Gen. Beth “Betsy” Salisbury, deputy commanding general of the 99th RD.
“Our country is strong because of our people and our diversity, and our Army places people first and is equally proud of our diversity today,” Salisbury noted.
The naturalization ceremony was followed by remarks from several senior Army leaders, the administering of the Oath of Enlistment to dozens of new Army recruits, and a traditional cutting of the Army birthday cake.
“In celebrating the Army’s history, we also celebrate its greatest asset – its people –and our journey from a few-hundred riflemen to an inclusive and diverse Army that mirrors our own nation’s diversity,” said Lt. Gen. Donna Martin, U.S. Army inspector general.
“While Black, Asian and Hispanic Soldiers have fought honorably since the Revolutionary War, segregation of the armed forces remained until July 26, 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to desegregate the armed forces,” she continued.
“Thank you for wanting to serve our country,” said Ken Wong, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for Eastern Pennsylvania, to the new recruits. “The fact that you’re being sworn-in in Philadelphia is actually something really, really extra special because this is where it all started.”
The final event featured a tree-planting in Washington Square as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Green Canopy initiative celebrating her 70 years on the throne of England, as well as a wreath-laying at the park’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Throughout this special year of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, cities, counties, villages, schools, business and individuals are all encouraged to plant trees to create the Queen’s Green Canopy,” explained Hannah Young, deputy consul general at the British Consulate General, New York.
“Throughout the ups and downs of the last 70 years, the Queen has always been a steadfast and inspirational leader through the best and the worst of times. But in spite of all this, our partnership with the United States has remained a constant,” she added.
“In planting this tree, this English Oak, there will always be a part of Great Britain in this park,” Smeath said. “It is going to grow really tall, it is going to be justifiably proud, and it is also going to be very, very strong and be around for a lot of years, and that typifies the relationship between the British armed forces and the American armed forces.”
“I am truly honored to be taking part in the Queen’s Green Canopy initiative and to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, and I’m also thrilled that we get to do it in this place – a place of honor for an unknown Soldier buried here who died in our War for Independence,” Faulk said.
“Planting a tree here in Washington Square is going to be a lasting monument to our two nations’ continued alliance and shared history,” he continued. “The planter of trees plants not only for himself, but for future generations, and I hope that future generations of our two great nations will maintain the relationship that we’ve enjoyed and shared throughout that 100-year history through two world wars, global operations for the past 20 years, and well into the future.”