Main Line to Front Line

By Goodman, Marc | American Heritage, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Main Line to Front Line


Goodman, Marc, American Heritage


PHILADELPHIA'S CITY TROOP STAYS COLONIAL IN AN M1-A1 WORLD

WHAT IS A SOLDIER OF "cornet" rank, dressed in an 1830s-era uniform with bearskin plumed helmet, doing in the modern, high-tech U.S. Army? Plenty, it turns out, for the cornet is a member of the 1st Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, a National Guard outfit that may be the oldest military unit in continuous service in the country. Its members love to parade in dress uniforms, but when war breaks out, they shed their antique finery for military fatigues and chemical-warfare suits.

Long a bastion of blue-blooded Main Liners, City Troop drew its first members in 1774 from organizations like the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, and it often served as George Washington's bodyguard and escort. Today it still retains the whiff of an exclusive society. In the nation's only private armory, soldiers have after-work drinks in an oak-paneled bar below a ballroom and a library. Its current roster of 70 members, all male, of whom 30 percent are legacies, draws heavily from Philadelphia's legal and financial circles. The unit's calendar includes debutante balls and horse shows along with its monthly drill and maneuvers.

But once you get past these trappings and the $5,000 dress uniforms, the troopers are trained tank crews, scouts, and mortarmen. 1st City Troop drives M1-A1 Abrams tanks, and its men have participated in almost every American conflict, from the Battle of Brandywine in the Revolution to the Meuse-Argonne in World War I in the Persian Gulf. …

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