September 17, 2019
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White pine tree has long tradition of military symbolism in Maine

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

As Maine celebrates its 200th birthday, the bicentennial flag has been raised in communities across the state — blue, featuring a white pine tree and a north-seeking star. The eastern white pine has long stood as a symbol for Maine, but it has special meaning for Maine’s state military forces.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Maine provided one regiment each from Cumberland and York counties, which marched to Boston following the news of Lexington and Concord. They served as part of the Massachusetts contingent in 1775 during the siege of Boston.

William Moody noted on July 18, 1775, that his regiment was presented with its standard, bearing the inscription “An Appeal to Heaven” with the white pine tree below it. The first of Maine’s military contributions to the fledgling United States fought their first battles under the white pine.

Following statehood in 1820, the Maine Militia — now separate from Massachusetts — needed its own flag for the regiments organized around the state. The image chosen was that of the Maine coat of arms — a white pine tree with a recumbent moose underneath. These were flown by the regiments of the Maine Militia until the Civil War, and were the colors that Maine regiments marched under during the bloodless “Aroostook War” of 1838-39.

During the U.S. Civil War, Maine supplied 32 regiments of infantry, two regiments of cavalry and six batteries of artillery to the U.S. Army. The regiments bore two colors: the national and the state. Most often, the latter consisted of the federal crest with the regiment’s name underneath. However, some regiments carried ceremonial state standards that bore the state seal with the white pine, emblazoned with the regiment’s battle honors.

When the 1st Maine Infantry Regiment mustered for the Spanish-American War in 1898, they did so under the regimental colors bearing the Maine state seal on a field of blue, with “National Guard” and “First Infantry” emblazoned below. Once again, the white pine tree remained the central feature of the connection between the state and her military forces. It was this flag that would be adopted by the Legislature as the state flag in 1909.

At the outset of World War I, the Army decided to end the traditional designation of National Guard regiments by their state names. The 2nd Regiment of Infantry, Maine National Guard, became the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. The 103rd Infantry fought on the Western Front from February to November of 1918, taking part in the major campaigns of the U.S. Army. On the shattered fields of France, the soldiers of the regiment yearned for the timbered landscapes of their home state and began to mark their equipment with a white pine tree. After the Armistice, the men of the regiment painted the insignia on their helmets as a point of pride.

In 1924, the regiments of the Maine Army National Guard were given unit crests by the War Department. The three regiments of the state — the 103rd Infantry, the 152nd Field Artillery and the 240th Coast Artillery — received crests with the joining feature being the pine tree on top of each crest.

Following World War II, the Maine National Guard was reorganized again. The Maine Army National Guard was given a distinctive patch to be worn on the shoulder of the uniform: “On a blue shield … a green pine tree with yellow trunk silhouetted against a yellow sun with pointed rays and issuing from a green mound.” The pine tree was given pride of place once again, as “historically the central figure of the State of Maine seal and illustrative of Maine as ‘The Pine Tree State.’” This is the patch still worn by members of the Maine Army National Guard in all their missions around the world and serves as a reminder of Maine’s proud military heritage.

Capt. Jonathan D. Bratten is the command historian of the Maine Army National Guard.

 



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