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President Fillmore Honored by 107th on Behalf of White House

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
  • 107th Airlift Wing
On a bitter winter's morning, the 107th Airlift Wing honored Millard Fillmore, the nation's 13th president, with a wreath laying ceremony at his grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo on Friday, Jan. 6.

Col. Gray R. Charlton, the wing vice commander, laid the wreath on behalf of President Barack Obama in front of dignitaries and admirers of President Millard Fillmore. The ceremony, which is in its 52nd year, is held by the University at Buffalo to mark the western New York native's birthday.

"It's a great honor to be asked to participate in any event acting on behalf of the president of the United States," said Charlton. "As the 13th president of the United States he was the last member of the Whig Party to hold office of president."

The wreath, which is adorned with red, white and blue flowers, is presented by the White House and one is laid every year at the graves of all former presidents on their birthdays. Fixed to the top of the wreath is a bow in the nation's colors with a card attached that simply reads "The President."

Fillmore was one of the founders of the University at Buffalo, of which he was the first chancellor, holding the position while he was vice president in 1849, and president from 1850 to 1853. He also helped to found the Buffalo Historical Society which today includes the Buffalo History Museum and Tifft Nature Preserve, in 1862.

When the Civil War broke out, Fillmore was the commander of the Union Continentals which was a militia of men from upstate New York. They were dedicated to the defense of Buffalo should the Confederate army attack, which ultimately it did not. Fillmore remained active with them after the war, and participated in guarding President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train when it came through Buffalo.

Fillmore left a lasting legacy through his many endeavors, and his actions were at times felt across the world.

"President Fillmore furthered the rising trade with Japan and clashed with the French over Napoleon III's attempt to annex Hawaii, and with the French and the British over the attempt of Narciso Lopez to invade Cuba."

Fillmore's legacy began in 1828 when he was elected to the New York State Assembly. After serving one term, he was elected a representative in 1832. Serving in Congress until 1843, he was unsuccessful in running for governor, though he was elected as comptroller in 1848.

When Zachary Taylor was elected president in 1849, Fillmore joined him as his vice president. A year later, Taylor died suddenly making Fillmore the president. Not able to secure the Whig Party nomination for the 1852 election, Fillmore left the White House as the last Whig president ever in office, and returned to Buffalo and lived out the rest of his life in service to the community until his death on March 8, 1874.

Fillmore left a lasting impact on western New York by forming one of the most prestigious law firms in the area which still exists today as Hodgson Russ, LLP, said Charlton. The University at Buffalo has also gone on to be the largest school in the New York state university system, said Charlton.

Through the pain of the winter chill, the American flag flew over Fillmore's grave and many paid their respects to ensure the former president is honored.

"We honor them for their service, wisdom, vision and dedication to our great nation," said Charlton.