Maj. Sean Flynn’s link to the New York Army National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment stretches back through both world wars to the Civil War, when two of his Irish immigrant ancestors served in the Manhattan-based unit.
On Monday, the 42-year-old combat veteran from Delmar was named to lead the regiment dubbed “the Fighting 69th” by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“The Fighting 69th has a rich history of defending our nation and keeping New York’s communities safe,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday announcing Flynn’s taking command of the regiment. “This battalion fought to end slavery during the Civil War, supported New York City in the aftermath of September 11th, and most recently came to the aid of the many New Yorkers who were displaced by this past summer’s flooding.”
Soldiers in the 69th lead the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The unit, based at the Lexington Avenue Armory, also has elements in Long Island, Westchester County and the Hudson Valley.
The regiment was mustered in New York City in 1861 and became the core of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade, which fought in some of the Civil War’s bloodies battles, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Cold Harbor. Pierce Butler, Flynn’s paternal great-great grandfather, served in the 69th, as did Butler’s brother Edmond, killed at Cold Harbor in 1864.
One or more of Flynn’s other ancestors served in the 69th Infantry during World War I and World War II.
“It’s an incredible honor to lead the 69th. It’s also humbling,” Flynn told The Associated Press.
While the regiment started out as a mostly Irish outfit, today its ranks include New York soldiers who represent the diverse population of the city’s five boroughs, keeping alive what Flynn called its “immigrant edge and immigrant drive.”
“It takes moxie and swagger to make it in New York, especially for an immigrant,” Flynn said.
Flynn was a company commander in the 69th when it was deployed to Baghdad in 2004-05 and served with the National Guard’s 108th infantry in Afghanistan in 2012. In 2007, he authored a book detailing the 69th’s deployment to Iraq, “The Fighting 69th: From Ground Zero to Baghdad.”