Albert J Myer was a medical doctor by training, yet his contributions went far beyond the realm of medicine. He was the first Chief Signal Officer of the US Army. To his credit, he is the reason there is a Fort Myer.
“Images of America – Fort Myer” became a reality on 13 JUN 2011, one day before the US Army’s birthday – very appropriately mind you. As the FIRST BOOK ever about this historic US Army Post with origins back to the US Civil War when it was known as Fort Whipple and part of the nearly 70 forts which surrounded and defended the US Capital – “The Defenses of Washington”. Fort Myer continues that duty uninterrupted until today from the heights of Arlington. What’s on the acres has changed. There’s no more drill field where the thundering hooves of the nearly 1,500 horses carried their Cavalry troopers or pulled their cassions with field artillery. There’s no more trolley line. Instead it’s the home of the elite units of the US Army.
The reason I wrote the book? Besides breaking new ground, which has become my hallmark, especially within the last decade, it needed to be done. This fort has been the site of many events which have molded or changed the world around us, and no one is aware of it and those milestones and contributions, until now. With over two years of research based on a foundation of working and walking among the US military since 2000, the result is over 200 historical photographs which cover from the 1860s to the 1960s. The book also fills a void in the US Army story and as one of those who bought the book said “You set the bar high and you jumped over it.” - a nice critique for a first work.
Thanks to General Albert J. Myer and his visionary initiatives, the fort continued to be used after the War Between the States as the home for the Signal Corps School. It was later General of the Army Philip H. Sheridan upon a petition to the US Congress turned it into a military reservation and showcase for the US Cavalry - The Remount Service begun in 1909 and the Front Royal Depot from 1911 provided Fort Myer with a fresh source of horses to keep the Army moving.
THE Key item in the book is a note from Abraham Lincoln which I discovered during my research. Until I found it at the National Archives sandwiched between two photographs, no one, not even the Fort Myer historian knew of its existence. It opens up another branch of the Lincoln Legacy Tree and published for the first time in my book.
Highlights of some of the milestones at Fort Myer include:
- Birthplace of military aviation,
- Birthplace of the National Weather Service,
- Home of the US Army Signal Corps School,
- The JEEP was tested and approved on Fort Myer,
- Home of the US Army Band since 1942,
- Home of the Old Guard since 1948
- Society Circus (which I believe evolved into “Spirit of America”)
The impact that General George S. Patton had with his four tours on Post is amazing. The book helps remember South Post Fort Myer which served strongly as where the WACS and 12th Infantry were located during World War II. South Post also is where the MP School was established and a chapel was built that would be replicated over 500 times across the US Army (many of which are still providing a place of worship for the Soldiers, their family and friends.
(*The Soldiers of the US Army’s 3d Infantry Regiment who’s dual mission includes defending the Capital and performing the ceremonial work in Arlington National Cemetery and around the Capital region including White House, Pentagon, Andrews AFB, etc.)
The real treat are the over 200 historical photographs which chronicle over time the first one hundred years of this historic US Army Post. Many of which have never been seen before or published.
“Preserving the memories so others will remember…” ™
When Albert J Myer entered the US Army his training had been as a medical doctor… a surgeon to be exact, but he also brought a curiosity that proved to be vital to him and to the US Army and even the United States of America… it seems there are many in the military who have had or do have that innate spirit to deliver results that change things around them.
Such was General Albert J. Myer’s wig wag system of signaling – a single flag of either a white background with a red square in center or a red background with a white square center. At night, a torch was used to illuminate the signal flag.
Earlier in his career before joining the US Army, he was a telegraph operator while he attended college. Some have likened his signaling to aerial telegraphy. When choosing a location for the Signal Corps School, the Arlington Heights where Fort Whipple was constructed was ideal. During the US Civil War, when the Defenses of Washington were constructed, (nearly 70 forts) the surrounding area was clear-cut two miles in all directions to provide line-of-sight / line-of-fire for the artillery. With this in mind, General Myer could position a group of students on the heights and another at the base of the Washington Monument to learn and practice their signaling.
For those of you who are very interested in learning this way of signaling, the manual developed by General Myer and printed by the US Government Printing Office can be had here. (will open in a new window)
The date 06 APRIL is a significant milestone in Fort Myer history, for it was on that day in 1948 that one of the most historic and oldest infantry regiments within the US Army would be re-activated after World War II and call this historic US Army Post home. The regiment, like many after World War II, was inactivated, however there was a major need for a unit to provide for the defense of the National Capital of Washington DC while also providing ceremonial support. Military District of Washington did have a cermonial company to provide for ceremonial company that did ceremonies. So when the US Army’s 3d Infantry Regiment was reactivated, they were included within the regiment.
The 3d Infanry of the US Army, also known as The Old Guard, a name given to them by General Winfield Scott can trace its beginnings to the United States revolution with the date of its origination of JUNE 1784. From the start, the regiment has served and fought valiantly to protect and defend the United States.
Since its beginnings, the 3d has fought in
- War of 1812
- Mexican-American War
- American Civil War
- Indian Wars
- Spanish-American War
- Philippine-American War
- World War II
- Iraq War
So it was 06 APR 1948 when the US Army 3d Infantry Regiment was reactivated on the steps of the US Capitol and then took up home at Fort Myer. Known also as “The Escort to the President” – The Old Guard is the primaryunit within Presidential Inaugurations and state funerals.
The video below, courtesy of the US Army, provides an historic look back in time to about 1955. Accompanied by the US Army Band – “Pershing’s Own”, it shows the dual mission which the Old Guard continues until today.
Within Arlington National Cemetery, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded day and night all year round by Sentinels who are carefully selected and trained as Tomb Guards from this regiment. Over the years, the regiment has added several distinguished specialty platoons / companies to address the ceremonial needs of the Military District of Washington and the US Army. These include:
- The Presidential Salute Battery
- The Caisson Platoon
- The Continental Color Guard
- The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps
- The US Army Drill Team
- The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard
In the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” many historic photographs of the 3d Infantry Regiment are displayed along with many more about Fort Myer.
Note: 06 APRIL was officially designated as Army Day by Congress. The last one that was celebrated nationally was in 1949.
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After the Civil War, the US Army’s Signal Corps School moved to Fort Whipple on Arlington Heights overlooking the valley which included the US Capital. General Albert J. Myer, who would later become the US Army’s First Signal Officer as a result of his visionary contributions, considered it an outstanding location from where the skills of signaling could be easily taught. From a view of 5 to 30 miles, it also had the space to conduct lasting experiments of alternate signaling methods.
The two crossed flags in the branch insignia are the two variations of the flag used in the wig-wag system developed by General Myer. The torch provided illumination at night.
Fort Whipple would later be re-named Fort Myer in honor of General Myer.
In the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” these and other accomplishments, milestones and people who contributed are highlighted marking the first one hundred years of this historic US Army Post which is still in operation.
It sits on Arlington Heights overlooking Washington DC and has seen its share of firsts since 1863 when it was first built as Fort Whipple. It was among the 70 fortifications surrounding the National Capital during the US Civil War, but unlike the rest which fell into disrepair and were abandoned, Fort Myer continues until this day (though they’ve hidden the name slightly – it’ll always be Fort Myer because of its significance and contributions.)
Some of the early firsts that this US Army Post holds are:
- First home of the US Signal Corps School
- First home of the National Weather Service (1870)
- First US Army Cavalry Showcase
- First military aviation flight (1908)
- First military aviation fatality (1908)
- First ROTC training
Over time, the significance of Fort Myer has grown. With it’s elite troops within, it continues to stand ready to defend the Nation’s Capital while providing an outstanding place to receive and honor visiting dignitaries.
The book “Images of America – Fort Myer” highlights these and others in a combination of historical photographs and revealing captions. The outstanding nugget is a first-time published note from Abraham Lincoln which no one knew existed.
When most people hear the name Fort Myer, they don’t think Virginia, but a place much further south in the United States.
The other location is an attractive place for tourism and nearby beaches with palm trees on the Gulf of Mexico. This other location WAS an US Army Fort built in 1850 as a military fort in response to Seminole Indians that were in conflict with the area’s few settlers.
So the confusion continues… perhaps once people begin reading the book “Images of America – Fort Myer” they’ll get a better understanding that Fort Myer is in Virginia (first named Fort Whipple during the US Civil War) and is home to the US Army Band – “Pershing’s Own”, the US Army’s 3d Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard”. The fort is located right next to Arlington National Cemetery. It was named after General Albert J. Myer, the US Army’s first Signal Officer, the inventor of the wig-wag signaling method (the insignia of the US Army Signal Corps are a pair of crossed Wig-Wag Flags), who also started the National Weather Service.
Today, Fort Myer, Virginia with over a century of service to the United States of America is as an outstanding US Army Post, defending the Nation’s Capital – Washington, DC with origins during the US Civil War. Many more events and people who were stationed there have had major influences on the United States and the world.
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