Shore town to lose National Guard unit

Move to Baltimore closing Crisfield armory

November 02, 2005|By CHRIS GUY AND MICHAEL DRESSER | CHRIS GUY AND MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTERS

CRISFIELD -- Time was, nearly all the young men seemed to follow their fathers into the ranks of the hometown 1229th Transportation Co. of the Maryland National Guard.

Nowadays, folks say there's plenty of patriotism left in Maryland's southernmost town, but enlistment in the National Guard is down, here as elsewhere. And the days are numbered for the 1229th, a unit that traces its roots to before World War I.

With only a dwindling number of Crisfield residents filling the unit's ranks, rumors have circulated for the past couple of years that it might be shut down. So no one, not even Maurice "Dana" Tawes, the D-Day hero whose name marks the company's red-brick fortress, was surprised to hear this week that the 1229th would move to Baltimore.

Its Crisfield headquarters will become an office of the Salvation Army.

"The Guard was once a big part of life in Crisfield, but everything has changed altogether - here like anywhere else," says Tawes, 91, a retired brigadier general who served in the Guard for 38 years. "I think being part of it has gone out of style."

Maj. Charles S. Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, said recruitment to the company has lagged over the last year, particularly in the lower Eastern Shore counties of Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester.

The recruiting results locally were even poorer than the statewide performance - which also fell short of its goals. The Maryland National Guard, which set a goal of 1,159 enlistments, attracted only 947 during the year that ended Sept. 30 - slightly up from the previous year's 922.

The 1229th's 165 members have long been divided between Crisfield and an armory in Parkville. Now the company will be consolidated at the Melvin H. Cade Armory on Winchester Street in Baltimore.

In Tawes' day, the Crisfield armory was "the center of everything," serving as a gathering place for skating parties, dances and basketball games.

Tawes and his brother Robert, now 83, were mainstays of the 1229th, and others in their clan, including three of Robert Tawes' sons, joined the Guard.

Fifty-eight-year-old George Tawes pulled a six-year hitch after college, earned the rank of captain and served as commander of the unit.

George Tawes, who runs a hardware store here that has been in the Tawes family since 1888, remembers the turmoil of the Vietnam era when he served. He believes growing dissent about the war in Iraq has hurt recruiting.

"Some people have questioned the war, and I'm not certain it was the right way to go," said Tawes. "But now we're in it this deep, people have to step up or it doesn't bode well for the country."

State Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, who represents the Lower Shore, discounted the war as a factor in recruiting. "It's a problem with the population, with the base you need to support an armory," said Stoltzfus, a Republican.

But Loren B. Johnson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said National Guard units across the country are failing to meet monthly recruiting goals. According to National Guard figures, the Guard fell more than 13,000 recruits short of its annual recruiting goal of 63,000. That means it will field 333,000 soldiers instead of 350,000.

Thompson said recruiting problems were usually less pronounced in rural areas such as Crisfield - "which could tell you something important about how Iraq is changing people's perceptions of the service," he said.

Debra Josenhans, principal of Crisfield High School, says her Junior ROTC program is thriving, drawing about 50 students from the 300 who are eligible. Most who chose the military are not interested in the Guard's part-time status, she said.

"I think a lot of people in the Guard never expected to be deployed like they have been in Iraq," Josenhans said. "They have full-time lives and then have to leave for long periods of time. It's a tremendous hardship on those with kids."

Capt. Warren Harris, who runs the high school's program, says many of his students have chosen to enter the Navy or other branches of the service instead of the Guard. He believes the war has dissuaded some from enlisting in the Guard.

"I'm sure that there is a perception that anyone who enlists [in the Guard] will go immediately to war, and that's just not the case."

Crisfield native Robert "Mugsy" Evans, a correctional officer who served in the Gulf War in 1991, says the burden placed on Guard members who have served in Iraq has been difficult.

"My dad was in the Guard and I followed him, but neither my son or daughter enlisted," said Evans, a former staff sergeant who retired in the spring after the 1229th returned from Iraq. "It's so much harder if you've got a job back home to worry about."

chris.guy@baltsun.com michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

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