By Jesse Roman
SALEM — The Witch City is one step closer to officially having another moniker: birthplace of the U.S. National Guard.
Congressman John Tierney made the case for the distinction yesterday afternoon on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Today is an important day for the city of Salem, the National Guard ... and for many others who have been advocating for this designation for years," Tierney said about the bill he introduced in the House.
The measure garnered bipartisan support and easily passed the House by a vote of 413-6, with four members voting "present." But it won't become official until the U.S. Senate weighs in on it in the coming weeks. If the Senate passes the bill, Salem would now and forever officially be known as the birthplace of the National Guard.
"Both sides (Democrats and Republicans) were in favor of it," Tierney said in an interview yesterday, just after his speech on the House floor. "We had 116 co-sponsors, just about every Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and the majority of Republicans."
According to history, the nation's first militia, which was the foundation for what would become the National Guard, first gathered on Salem Common in 1637.
The text of Tierney's bill provides a good history lesson:
"In 1636, the Massachusetts General Court ordered the organization of three militia regiments, designated as the North, South and East regiments. These regiments drilled once a week and provided guard details each evening to sound the alarm in case of attack. The East Regiment, the predecessor of the 101st Engineer Battalion, assembled as a regiment for the first time in 1637 on the Salem Common, marking the beginning of the Massachusetts National Guard and the National Guard of the United States."
Lest there be any controversy of the legitimacy of the city's claim, Tierney asked the Army Center for Military History to go through and fact-check the four-page bill. The center gave everything its seal of approval, Tierney said.
The legislation comes a month in advance of the 375th anniversary of the first muster, which will be commemorated on Salem Common. And, in an interesting coincidence, the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 182nd Infantry Regiment returned to Massachusetts yesterday after a one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
Several citizens, National Guard members and others called for Tierney to introduce the legislation, he said.
"Also, I think it will contribute to tourism and economic development of the city; it will create jobs, and it is a matter of pride, as well," Tierney said. "It will be positive in all those respects."
The bill states that a plaque or some sort of commemorative be built in Salem but makes it clear that no federal dollars should be used.
Tierney introduced a similar bill last May, which also passed the House as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. However, the Senate failed to pass the amendment, and it wasn't included in the final version of the bill. Tierney is confident that won't happen again.
"I spoke with Sen. (John) Kerry this morning personally on that, and he is working on it," Tierney said.
He has also contacted U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and has already received support from National Guard groups, who have vowed to call their representatives to encourage them to pass the bill.
"Hopefully, we can get this done as soon as possible," Tierney said.
In Massachusetts, at least, Salem is already known as the birthplace of the National Guard. After near-unanimous state legislative support, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill declaring Salem to be the birthplace in August 2010.
In 2007, Salem City Council also unanimously adopted a resolution naming the city the National Guard birthplace.