Riderless horses

Ginger Patrick (right) shows off her black gelding, led by Gregory Wawrytko, and white horse, led by Anthony Archer, in poignant pinning ceremony. (Photo by Marianne Mogon/The Flume)

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 101 in Colorado Springs began the celebration of their 101st anniversary on April 20, at their post location 702 South Tejon Street. VFW Post 101 is the oldest post in Colorado Springs and originally was stationed in Old Colorado City until being moved to its current location in 1969.

VFW Post 101 was chartered on April 20, 1920 under Commander James W. Gowdy. The post was named after Lt. Marion L. Willis, who was killed in France during WWI, while assigned to the 356th Infantry Division. He was initially a native of Kansas, though his family moved to Colorado Springs sometime before the war. He is currently buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Post 101 is the owner and caretaker of the Grand Army of the Republic area of Evergreen Cemetery. To this day, Post 101 carries on the tradition of connecting the Veterans of Colorado Springs, past and present, providing a place where they can socialize, and by providing both essential services and advocacy to Veterans in need and their families.

Every Memorial Day they perform a ceremony at both the GAR plot and at Lt. Marion L. Willis’ grave to commemorate fallen comrades.

To kick off their 101st anniversary, they chose to commemorate the occasion with the pinning of two horses, owned by Ginger Patrick of Florissant. The two horses were officially inducted in the VFW Post due to their involvement with veteran activities.

Gregory Wawrytko and Anthony Archer, in their Army dress blues, officially presented the newest members of the VFW Post 101 and pinned them as the official riderless horses. These horses were approved under vote of the ruling body of the post membership and the commander of the post, US Space Force Major Danielle Ryan.

The horses were made official in a letter signed by Ryan on Nov. 1, 2020. The horses will appear in their first official capacity on Memorial Day at the Evergreen Cemetery and to the public on Saturday, June 5 at the street celebration at the post downtown Colorado Springs.

The event will include all six flags of the uniformed services flying, a decorated stage, and post commander Ryan presiding. The white horse that day will be under saddle and carrying the U.S. flag. Achilles will be posted and in hand of uniformed personnel.

Patrick served eight years in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. She subsequently joined the VFW in Springfield, Ohio. She joined Post 101 when she moved to Colorado in 2009.

She has been involved with horses most of her life and started getting involved with the Riderless Horse commemorations with her black mare, Circling Raven, in 2006.

After the untimely passing of her mare, she acquired Achilles in 2010. Achilles, a gelding, has “fought” with the 6th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry reenactment group in the 150th anniversary series of the Civil War. He was named for Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War, the greatest of all the Greek warriors, and is the central character of Homer’s Iliad.

Anthem’s full registered name is National Anthem, named specifically for the job of honoring the fallen. He is a two-and-a-half-year-old stallion whose first foal was born the night before he was pinned. “I named him specifically for this job,” said Patrick.

Achilles was saddled with tack that would be used by a Civil War Calvary Officer with a pair of boots facing backwards. During funerals it is a powerful symbol of grief and the backward facing boots in the stirrups to represents the fallen having one last look at his or her loved ones.

Horses have played a significant role in the U.S. military throughout history, from riding into battle to honoring fallen heroes during funerals. Horses have served in nearly every capacity during war, including transportation, reconnaissance missions, cavalry charges, packing supplies, and communications.

In addition to boosting morale and courage of troops, these powerful animals even became weapons when taught to kick, strike and bite. Before the evolution of military technology, horses were a critical and flexible component in military strategy.

This silent partner of service members could help turn the tide in a battle. The horse’s influence on U.S. military history can be seen prominently all the way into World War II.

Today, horses are returning to prominence in today’s U.S. Special Armed Forces. The need for service members trained on horses has returned after military units traveled and fought on horseback through rugged terrains in Afghanistan in 2001.

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