As the Persian Gulf military buildup continues, a tiny Eastern Shore community wants to honor the estimated 1,500 mobilized Maryland servicemen and servicewomen by putting their names on the town Christmas tree.
But Pentagon and National Guard regulations prohibiting the release of the names of individual service personnel have all but put the kibosh on the project. So Braxton Strueber, service manager of the Oxford Boat Yard, is trying to bypass the military brass and appeal directly to the public.
So far, Ms. Strueber said, she has about 21 names, some directly from families and others collected by the Easton Star-Democrat newspaper. She is asking other families interested in having the names of their military relatives included on the Oxford tree to call her at (301) 226-5101 (the Oxford Boatyard) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.
The project was part of an effort by the Oxford Business Association to stimulate ebbing public celebration of the Christmas season in Oxford, she explained. The 35-member, month-old group planned to inscribe the names on plaques to be hung on the town's tree for its ceremonial lighting at 7 p.m. Dec. 7.
Lt. Col. Howard S. Freedlander, public affairs officer of the Maryland National Guard, praised the project but said he was forbidden to release the names.
"It is a privacy issue to protect their families," he explained. "Our families could be subject to some mischief."
The "Department of Defense has no magic list of names," said Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Wagner, a Pentagon spokesman. "There is no running list of names from which individuals from a particular state could be drawn."
Although Colonel Freedlander said he couldn't help Ms. Strueber's group, he added that "anything that can be done to help our family members should be done, particularly to help them through the holidays."
He said support groups had formed across the state to help the families of the estimated 1,500 Marylanders who have been calledup or have volunteered from 38 Army and Air National Guard units as well as Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Reserve components.
Oxford, at the mouth of the Tred Avon River in Talbot County, "is a quaint, sweet little Victorian town with under 500 year-round residents," although it almost doubles in population during the vacation season, Ms. Strueber said.
The town Christmas tree, a 28-foot pine in Oxford Park near the river bank, has been sparsely lighted in recent years, but it will have bigger and better decoration this year, she added.
The idea of honoring members of the armed services who have gone tothe Persian Gulf area won the support of the three-member Board of Town Commissioners, and Ms. Strueber began spearheading the effort.
"It seemed like a good thing to do as our way of trying to help," she said. "Something nice, a volunteer type of thing."
Police Chief Walter Jones will play Santa Claus at the tree-lighting ceremony, the first time there has been a town Santa in years, she said.
But the focus of the event will be to honor those who are thousands of miles away and who will be thinking of their families in cities and towns, like Oxford, all over the United States, she said.