Veterans Of The 29th Commemorate 'The Big One'

National Guard Division Re-enacts Entry Into Wwii

July 02, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

Fort Meade, the jumping off and return point for many Operation Desert Storm troops, welcomed back soldiers from a different era Saturday.

More than 150 veterans of the 29th National Guard Infantry Division gathered for a remembrance ceremony at McGlachlin Field to mark the 50th anniversary of mobilization for World War II.

The anniversary date was Feb. 3, 1941, but in February, the military installation was deeply involved in Operation Desert Storm.

The ceremony featured speeches by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Gen. Edwin H. Burba Jr. of the U.S. Army Forces Command, and Maj. Gen. JamesF. Frettard of the Maryland National Guard.

World War II veteransand their families watched from the shelter of camouflage canopies as members of the modern 29th and Army reserve units stationed in the Persian Gulf paraded past.

The ceremonies included displays of both World War II-era and contemporary military equipment, and fly-bys of aircraft belongingto the modern division. There was also a demonstration of small-unit tactics of the period by the World War II Federation, a re-enactment unit.

Known as "the Blue and Gray," the 29th consists of Maryland and Virginia National Guard units that trace their ancestry back to the American Revolution and both sides of the Civil War.

Sent to England after the United States entered World War II, the 29th first fought on the sands of Omaha Beach, the most bitterly contested of the Normandy invasion beaches, on June 6, 1944.

Originally 14,000 men strong, the division served throughout the European campaign. It was rebuilt time and again, with replacements from nearly every state. By the time World War II ended, the 29th had taken about 28,000 casualties.

Briefly deactivated in early 1946, the unit was returned to duty the same year. It served until 1968, when it was one of several National Guard units deemed unnecessary bythe Defense Department.

In 1985, the 29th was reborn as the National Guard's only light infantry division, to be deployed as rapidly as possible when needed. During the Persian Gulf war, the 29th stayed home to support overseas preparations by the 82nd Airborne Division.

Linthicum resident Marion Graham served eight years with the 29th and was transferred to the Fifth Army after the war started. Nevertheless, he remained a 29th man in his heart, even as he examined displays of modern equipment.

"Well, the equipment's good, and it serves the samedamn purpose," he said. "But to fire the weapons you need tons and tons of ammunition. We carried ours on our backs, and right back of the line was an ammunition depot. You could always send somebody back to bring some more."

He chuckled as he looked over the display of German equipment, which he praised both for its quality and for the high prices captured items would bring from people based in the rear. "You could start with nothing," he said, "and eventually go home with severalthousand dollars."

Franklin Hinze of Front Royal, Va., was a different sort of 29th veteran. He lived at Fort Meade after his father was called up in 1941.

"We lived here from May of that year through June of the next year," he recalled, when the family moved to Florida, where the division was next based.

Walking through the displays of military equipment from the period and looking at the re-enactment, Hinze said, "I went to summer (training) camp with him for anumber a years, and this really brings back memories.

"Many's thetime I took my bicycle and rode all over the place. When they weren't using the obstacle course, we'd run through it some days."

Hinze's father, a staff sergeant who won the Silver and Bronze stars, diedtwo months ago at the age of 88.

"I'm sorry he's not here to see this. He'd have really enjoyed this," Hinze said. "He had stories to tell, right up to the end. And no matter how many times he'd tell these stories, I could listen to them for hours."

Lowrey J. Brooks ofDundalk remembered arriving at FortMeade on Feb. 10, 1941, in the snow.

Looking around the post, Brooks said it was "the same old FortMeade of years gone by. A lot of additions, and the old barracks we were in seems to be boarded up. But they're still there."

Glen Burnie resident Bill Meagher, a Westinghouse engineer and re-enactment buff, stood in front of a tent in the uniform worn by the division during its year-long training in North Carolina. Nearby were smaller groups in the olive drab

combat dress worn by the unit later on.

"We really have two periods of the 29th Division," he explained. "The people in the khakis like I have on wear what you might call the World War I helmets," holding up a flat-brimmed model resembling a soup plate.

"They wore these almost through 1942, and when they embarkedfor Britain, they turned them in and got the other rounder helmets that you see," Meagher said.

Meagher said veterans of the war have been quite supportive of his efforts.

"What we get out of it is that you see in the manual how to wear the gear, and a guy will say, 'Well, we never did it that way,' or 'We cut that off,' or 'We always threw the gas masks away the minute we got off the boat.' So we get little insights in they way they did things."

Meagher said he greatly valued the input from these veterans.

"Some of them have really interesting stories. What's unfortunate is that a lot of this has never been documented. It would be neat if somebody did an oral history.

"I mean, these people are in their 60s and 70s, and they're goingto be gone. And we're going to lose an opportunity."

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