Md. National Guard marks D-Day role

March 06, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

About 1,500 people gathered last night amid pomp and

pageantry for the Maryland National Guard's military ball marking the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II and the promotion of the guard's first black brigadier general.

Maj. Gen. James F. Frettered, the guard's adjutant general, also used the occasion of the 22nd annual ball at Baltimore's Fifth Regiment Army to officially announce that 200 Maryland National Guard volunteers will embark on an 11-month peacekeeping mission in the Middle East.

The National Guard's 29th Infantry Division (Light) was in the spotlight last night, along with dignitaries, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd.

The division was the only National Guard unit to participate in Normandy Invasion in 1944.

Maj. Gen. Maurice D. Tawes, a member of the division, remembered wading in chest-deep water onto the beach about 2 p.m. June 6. There was no time to be afraid, he said.

"What happened, we expected," said General Tawes, who lives in Crisfield. "We were trained for an amphibious landing."

Lt. Col. Arthur L. Flinner, of Towson was the captain of an artillery battery that landed at Omaha Beach a day after Mr. Tawes.

His most vivid memory, he said, was of seeing the thousands of ships, lined in five rows, crossing the English Channel.

"We were just a small part of it," he said.

Although the 10 D-Day veterans were honored at the ball for their service in World War II, the evening belonged to one division member who hadn't even been born when the Normandy invasion occurred.

Baltimorean Thomas C. Johnson, 48, was formally promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He is the first African American to achieve that rank in the Maryland National Guard.

He is an assistant division commander of the 29th, which has 10,000 guardsmen in Virginia and Maryland.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966 during the Vietnam War. After the war, he worked for a time as a firearms examiner for the Baltimore Police Department.

In 1973, he joined the Maryland National Guard's special forces unit. Later he took a full-time position with the Maryland National Guard.

He is trained as an infantry ranger and has been decorated with many medals, including a Bronze Star with one oak-leaf cluster. He oversees the guard's Youth Challenge program, designed to help at-risk teens-agers.

Cheers and applause erupted as the star indicating his new rank was placed on General Johnson's shoulders.

"The appeal to me of the military is the challenge," General Johnson said.

He also said the 29th Division is prepared to take up the role as peacekeeper in the Middle East, for which training begins in August and service starts early next year.

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