Knickerbocker Greys Denied Entry to Memorial Day Service in Escalation of Feud With Armory

Following a parade and a wreath-laying at a military memorial, the Greys were barred from admission to the armory where they have been based for more than a century.

The New York Sun/Matthew Garcia
Members of the Knickerbocker Greys at a Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday, May 29. The New York Sun/Matthew Garcia

As the Knickerbocker Greys face eviction from their longtime home at the Park Avenue Armory, members of the patriotic cadet corps were on Sunday denied entry to the armory for a memorial service honoring fallen members of the Seventh Regiment. 

The move, which followed the Greys marching with veterans at a Memorial Day remembrance and wreath-laying, marks an escalation of the conflict between the group and the armory management.

The armory is seeking to remove the Greys by June 1 despite widespread community opposition and political intervention by Representative Carolyn Maloney and other officials.

In an interview, the president of the board of the Greys, Adrienne Rogatnick, told The New York Sun “the fact that three little kids and two distinguished United States Army Colonels were turned away from a Memorial Day Service Sunday is, frankly, shocking.”

She described the armory management’s action as “shameful.” 

Regarding the close historical relationship between the Greys and the Seventh Regiment, Ms. Rogatnick said “the relationship of honor, respect, and support between the Greys and the Seventh Regiment has existed for 120 years. We have no doubt that friendship will continue with the Regiment far into the future.”

The Greys, a patriotic cadet corps, are the country’s oldest after-school program, established in 1881. While the Greys are in conflict with the current management of the armory, members of the group were still invited to participate in the Sunday Memorial Day parade with the Seventh Regiment Veterans association. 

Following the parade and a wreath-laying at the Seventh Regiment memorial, however, the Greys were barred from admission at the doors of the armory where they have been based for more than a century.

Sunday’s parade by the Veterans of the Seventh Regiment Association and the New York National Guard began at 10:30 a.m. in front of the Park Avenue Armory, originally known as the Seventh Regiment Armory. 

During the parade, the Seventh Regiment veterans honored fallen World War I veterans at the memorial of the 107th infantry, the successor to the Seventh Regiment, on Fifth Avenue at East 67th Street.

Beside the small group of Greys cadets, there were veterans of multiple generations of the Seventh Army Regiment, along with active-duty service members from the area and a small detachment of the French Veterans Society, based out of the Upper East Side.

With an NYPD escort, the parade marched down East 67th Street to the beat of drums, attracting a sizable crowd of bystanders who watched the group proceed toward the memorial. The Greys cadets marched behind a National Guard member wearing a World War I-era uniform. 

One bystander mentioned to a reporter of the Sun that she was “thrilled to see the veterans being honored, after a lot of inactivity during the pandemic.”

The Seventh Regiment has been active for nearly 200 years and served in 12 different wars throughout America’s history. They are particularly well known for their participation in World War I. 

During the war, the regiment, then called the 107th Infantry Regiment, took heavy losses but was essential in breaking Germany’s Hindenburg Line in 1918.  Four of its soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during World War I. 

At the opening of the ceremony, the president of the Seventh Regiment Veterans Association, Thomas Principe, a retired brigadier general, said, “It is our responsibility as citizens to remember our Nation’s brave fallen men and women — whether they died in foreign lands in the heat of battle or after service — in the uniform of our military.”

“God bless America and its noble allies around the world,” a New York supreme court judge, Louis Nock, said. In a prayer, Judge Nock added, “Oh mighty God, there are other Hindenburg lines that we need to break. We need you to help us to break the Hindenburg lines of tyranny around the world, of bigotry, hatred, and death.”

After Judge Nock’s remarks, the honor guard proceeded to play Taps, and the Greys cadets saluted as two active-duty officers of the New York National Guard laid wreaths to honor the fallen soldiers of both the Seventh Regiment and the French Veterans Society. 

After laying the wreaths, the parade continued its march down Fifth Avenue and returned to the Park Avenue Armory. The veterans convened at the Tiffany Room of the armory for a private memorial service. According to some of the veterans, they consider the room to be “sacred.”

While the veterans of the Seventh Regiment Veterans Association were able to hold their Memorial Day celebration in the armory after the parade, the three young cadets of the Knickerbocker Greys were not permitted to enter the armory. 

“I never thought I would live to see the day when any American would be turned away from a Memorial Day observance in the United States,” a parent of one of the Greys at the event said, describing the denial of entry to “two American colonels with combined military service of 66 years” as “beyond terrible.”  

The Greys have had over 5,000 cadets in their lifetime, including Vice President Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt Junior, and numerous past members of the Seventh Regiment, some of whom died serving in World War I and World War II. Memorial plaques dedicated to members of the Greys who died while serving in the Seventh Regiment are prominently displayed in the armory lobby. 

The group, which now comprises 30 cadets, will be forced to meet in Central Park, where they learn drills, study history, and visit historical sites. Without an office and the ability to drill at the Armory, it is unclear how the group will be able to continue attracting new cadets, and its leadership has observed it could call the group’s future into doubt.

The Greys have received backing from the local community board, and from politicians including Ms. Maloney, who sent a letter in appeal to Governor Hochul in support of the group, state Senator Liz Kreuger, and the Manhattan borough president, Mark Levine.

At a recent Upper East Side community board meeting, board member Marco Tamayo described the Knickerbocker Greys as “little patriots who have done nothing wrong and do not deserve this.” 

Representatives for the Park Avenue Armory did not immediately respond Sunday evening to a request for comment. 

The New York Sun

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