On the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, it was a weekend of somber events in Harford County, honoring the country’s veterans of military service.
Harford County had 47 heroes killed during World War I. The 47, whose names are on a memorial outside the Bel Air Armory, were memorialized during the opening of the county’s third annual Veterans Resource Fair at the Armory Saturday morning.
“We will hear the names of 47 brave souls who made the supreme sacrifice — in fact, some of their family members are in the audience with us today,” Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said, indicating people gathered on North Main Street.
That ceremony was followed by Veterans Day observances Sunday in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.
Glassman spoke during the brief ceremony Saturday, along with Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and County Councilman James McMahan, the council’s representative on the Harford County Commission on Veterans Affairs, and Robert Brown, chair of the veterans commission.
Brown read each person’s name, from Cpl. Maurice L. Abbott to Pvt. Henry Walter Zellman. Nurse Anna Spalling Coale is listed among the military members. A stiff, cold wind blew during much of the outdoor ceremony, but it subsided long enough for the names of the dead to be read.
Glassman and Taylor then laid a wreath in front of the memorial.
The ceremony preceded the resource fair, an opportunity for area veterans and their families to learn about the multiple organizations, employers and government agencies that can provide them with support.
Organizers estimated more than 300 people attended, double the estimated 150 people who attended last year. There were 36 vendors, 15 more than the previous year’s event.
This year’s event fell one day before the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice between Germany and the Allies that brought more than four years of bloody fighting to an end on Nov. 11, 1918. The war formally ended with the June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
World War I, also known as “The Great War” or “The War to End All Wars,” started in the summer of 1914. The United States entered on the side of the Allies when it declared war on Germany in April 1917.
About 4.7 million to 4.8 million U.S. military service members were mobilized, and more than 2 million deployed to Western Europe. More than 100,000 Americans died, and more than 200,000 were injured during the war.
“Each one of the 47 was a beloved son or daughter,” Glassman said of those from Harford who died. “They came from all walks of life and from every corner of Harford County, yet they were united in a common cause to defend freedom.”
The county executive also lauded the Harford residents on the home front who “rallied to support our soldiers.”
“They joined the American Red Cross, bought liberty bonds, knitted clothing, donated food and funds,” Glassman said.
The memorial in front of the Armory is meant to honor the dead for present and future generations, according to Glassman.
“To these 47 heroes — and to all the veterans and their families — Harford County will always remember your service and your sacrifice,” he said.
Taylor, the APG commander, reflected upon the “catastrophic loss of life” during the Great War.
“Today, it’s been a long period of relative world peace,” he said. “It’s easy to assume that global war won’t happen again. We cannot make that assumption.”
Taylor also expressed thanks to Harford County leaders for their continued support of Aberdeen Proving Ground. The Army post, founded in 1917, is Harford’s largest employer with more than 20,000 civilian and military workers.
He also reminded the audience of the 180,000 soldiers deployed in 140 countries today, and that more than 17 years after the 9/11 attacks, “we are still very much today a nation at war.”
“Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines in this county know what it takes to serve, and you know that we have an obligation to each other to never break faith with any of them, any veteran here or anywhere, that’s served this country,” Taylor said.
He said events such as the resource fair are “critical to connect our veterans to the needed resources.”
McMahan read a proclamation signed by James M. Byrne, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, lauding the Harford veterans commission for its volunteers’ efforts to connect local veterans with resources, including VA benefits.
“We appreciate the Harford County commission on Veterans Affairs for their commendable and outstanding partnership in helping the VA serve our heroes,” according to the proclamation.
A family remembers
Several generations of the Macatee family gathered inside the Armory after the ceremony.
They are descendants of Cpl. Samuel Augustus Macatee, who died Sept. 27, 1918, while serving in Europe. He was in his early 30s and is buried in the cemetery at the St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Pylesville. He grew up in Pylesville near the church, according to family members.
“He was killed six weeks before the damn armistice,” 93-year-old Samuel A. Macatee, who is named for his uncle, said.
Macatee, a Timonium resident, did not hear much about his uncle during his childhood in Harford County. He was drafted into the military in 1943 and served in the Army Air Forces during World War II.
He was trained in the U.S. to work with machines to generate oxygen for hospitals and high-altitude flying. He was later deployed to England and France. Macatee was in Reims, France, in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans made their last significant offensive of the war on Allied troops in the Ardennes Forest region in Belgium and northeastern France.
Macatee was among multiple non-combat military personnel sent to infantry training as U.S. commanders sought anyone available to stop the German advance around the town of Bastogne, Belgium.
He said he was part of a group of about 20 noncommissioned officers sent to England for training. Macatee and another soldier were called out of line as his group later mustered to return to France, and he and his comrade remained behind in England.
“All my buddies got on that train headed back for Bastogne,” Macatee recalled. “I never saw one of them again.”
Macatee was in London on Victory in Europe, or V-E, Day in May 1945 when Germany’s surrender was announced. He and his wife returned, 50 years later, to the same street corner he was standing on when he heard the news.
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He said he was “grateful” for the dedication at the World War I memorial Saturday.
“It’s nice to know that people don’t forget what these guys did for their country,” he said. “You can’t do a hell of a lot more than give up your life.”
Macatee attended with three of his four children — Daniel Macatee, Joe Macatee and Nancy Carr — plus several of his grandchildren and spouses of his children and grandchildren. His oldest son, Samuel Augustus Macatee Jr., was not in attendance.
“The fact that he had to give his life for our country is pretty incredible — as they say, ‘the ultimate sacrifice,’” Daniel Macatee, 66, of Street, said of his late great-uncle. “It is definitely nice to see that the county and the people in this community are still giving tribute to [him] 100 years later.”
His 17-year-old son, Samuel Augustus Macatee, is a senior at North Harford High School. He has done presentations for school on his ancestor and namesake, and made rubbings of his great-great uncle’s headstone.
Sam said he thought “it was really cool” to see his ancestor honored, “and it’s nice, all the things that the county does for veterans.”
“It’s really cool, all the history of our family, how it goes back in Harford County over 100 years ago, and we still live here today,” he said.