'End of era' set today at Fort Meade


At the sound of a cannon, the 1st U.S. Army headquarters company at Fort Meade will strike its flag today and head south, breaking the post's strongest link to the days when Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton trained there.

"It's an end of an era," said Col. Gorham L. Black III, retired Fort Meade commander. "It's the last of the combat mission. . . . They're going to be missed at Fort Meade."

Fort Meade, the country's premier armor training ground during the world wars, has become a federal office park as a result of Pentagon's effort to save money by closing some bases and realigning others.

Today the only tanks to be found are the ones in the base museum. Most of the 8,100 acres of training grounds have been given away to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

After the ceremony today, the headquarters company will take its flag to Fort Gillem, Ga., where it will be raised tomorrow as 1st and 2nd Army headquarters are merged. The 1st Army headquarters directed the training of about half the country's 628,000 Army Reserve and National Guard members.

What will remain of the 1st Army at Fort Meade is a satellite command and its building, Pershing Hall, named after the 1st Army's first commander, Gen. John J. Pershing. The command will continue to advise the Fort Meade garrison, and other agencies will move into Pershing Hall.

"It's a sad day for all these employees who had to change their jobs," said 1st Army commander Lt. Gen. John P. Otjen, who is retiring. "Maryland has been good to 1st Army, and 1st Army has been good to Maryland."

Most of the 1st Army's 200 military and civilian employees at Fort Meade have been reassigned to federal agencies or have retired. The economic impact on the Odenton area is minimal because several hundred jobs will come to Fort Meade as part of the military's realignment, community and base leaders say.

What is more important, however, is the link to history, local retired military people say.

"Many of us who served in the 1st Army during the war hate to see it go because it contained a lot of history," said retired Army Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab, an Odenton resident and 1st Army veteran. "Having an Army headquarters at Meade gave it a certain amount of prestige in the military family."

The 1st Army was formed in France in August 1918. Its soldiers, who included Medal of Honor winner Sgt. Alvin York, fought at St. Mihiel Salient and in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in World War I.

The Pentagon deactivated the unit in April 1919 and reactivated it in 1933 at Fort Jay in New York. During World War II, the 1st Army troops were the first to break the German Siegfried line, first to cross the Rhine and first to contact Soviet troops moving west.

In 1966, the headquarters was merged with 2nd Army at Fort Meade. In 1973, the Pentagon reactivated 2nd Army at Fort Gillem, where it remains today.

Despite the loss of 1st U.S. Army headquarters, Odenton area community and military leaders say the base will continue to be a vital part of West County.

"Is [Fort Meade] a dead post? No," said Jim Golden, a retired Air Force colonel who was stationed at Fort Meade and now is a legislative assistant to County Councilman Bert L. Rice. "We're going to miss [1st Army], but it does not mean the demise of Fort Meade."

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