Watchfires date back to our country’s first war and have been common to all wars since then. General Washington used them to signal the ceasefire ending the Revolutionary War.
Reference is made to the use of Watchfires during the Civil War, in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Watchfires, 21 feet square at the base and 21 feet high were built in rows along the western shore of the Hudson River.
Since 1987, Rockland County’s Vietnam Veterans have come together to build these Watchfires according to the military regulations and specifications of the 1700‘s.
Watchfires are built every year on May 30th, the traditional Memorial Day, at four permanent locations in Rockland County, Clausland Mountain, Piermont Pier, Bowline Park and Gene Levy Park.
The Watchfires are lit at midnight and burn for 24 hours, with veterans standing watch and changing shifts as they did many generations ago.
In Vietnam, the mountain tops were our base camps, a more secure area where a watch was kept through the night, and a special watch was kept when we had a patrol still out--so the symbolism--keeping vigil by the Watchfire for our fallen brothers, our lost patrol that still has not returned, and the patrols of past wars--back to our country’s first soldiers who fought along these very shores.
Before today’s Watchfires are lighted, a rifle with bayonet, boots, and a helmet are placed in a traditional ceremony to honor our fallen brothers.
To commemorate the fallen warrior, an inverted weapon and bayonet--a tool of war and an instrument of peace-- is placed in the ground to symbolically mark the spot where our friend had fallen.
A pair of polished jungle boots, fully laced, is placed at the base of the inverted weapon to symbolize our brother’s place on Earth, where he had fallen while standing up for liberty, in the same manner as patriots of past wars who had also made the supreme sacrifice.
Finally, the helmet is placed atop the inverted weapon to protect our brother and friend, for he would no longer suffer the pain of war.