When it was over, the band played "Auld Lang Syne," a cannon roared and the red and black "A" flag of the 1st U.S. Army, with its eight battle streamers, came down for the last time at Fort Meade.

First Army Commander Lt. Gen. John P. Otjen took the flag to Fort Gillem, Ga., where it will be raised today as 1st and 2nd Army headquarters are merged as part of the Pentagon's budget cuts.

"As I bid farewell, wherever I go and whoever I become, I shall always be a First Army soldier," the general, who is retiring, told 200 people yesterday at a retreat ceremony on the post's McGlachlin Field.

The headquarters, which moved to Fort Meade in 1966, directed the training for about half of the country's 628,000 Army Reserve and National Guard members.

"It's a day of mixed emotions," said Lt. Col. Johnny Potocki, 53, who was among the crowd gathered beside the field. "I've seen the Army change over the years -- I see such a fine organization change and friends going elsewhere."

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whom the 1st Army hon- ored yesterday with a medallion, lashed out at the government for shrinking the military.

"Our military must stay strong. It cannot go lower in manpower," said Mr. Schaefer, who was a military hospital administrator during World War II.

In his farewell address, General Otjen quoted from Gen. John J. Pershing, 1st Army's first commander.

"'We no longer differentiate in an ultimate sense between Army, National Guard and Reserve Forces," General Pershing wrote in 1918. "Our purpose is to think only of the American citizen.'"

"That has been our commanding charter, and you have done it well," General Otjen said, reassuring soldiers that the Army's mission will remain the same, despite military cuts.

Many of those watching in bleachers and pavilions were 1st Army veterans and former civilian employees.

Bill Holland, the 1st Army's Deputy Chief of Logistics, is the only employee who was working at Fort Meade when the headquarters moved there from Fort Jay, N.Y., in 1966.

"It's very sad. They should have closed 2nd Army at Fort Gillem," he said with a sigh. 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.

During World War II, 1st Army troops were the first to break the German Siegfried Line, first to cross the Rhine and the first to contact Soviet troops moving west.

What remains of the 1st Army at Fort Meade is a satellite command and its building, Pershing Hall. Most of the 1st Army's 200 military and civilian employees have been reassigned to federal agencies or have retired.

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