Gen. Benjamin F. Dean, 85, Md. National Guard leader

May 19, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Benjamin F. Dean, retired commanding general of the Maryland Army National Guard, died of cancer Monday at his Cockeysville home. He was 85.

Born in Harrisonburg, Va., he left school to help support his family and worked as a lineman stringing wires in a remote area that had no electricity.

He enlisted as a private in a local National Guard unit in 1938 and was inducted into federal service as part of the 29th Infantry Division in 1941. That year he became a first sergeant and entered Officer Candidate School at Edgewood, graduating as a lieutenant in the Chemical Corps in 1942.

"Making first sergeant of his Harrisonburg company was indicative that he was a top-notch soldier," said Joseph Balkoski, the Maryland National Guard's command historian who befriended the general in later years.

From 1943 to 1945, as a major, he served in the China-Burma-India theater in the Army Air Forces.

"He saw the real horror of war but didn't speak of it much," said a son, Benjamin F. "Bud" Dean III of Eldersburg.

He left active military service in 1946 and immediately rejoined the Virginia National Guard as a captain. A year later, he moved to Pikesville and joined the Maryland Army National Guard.

According to an autobiography he dictated two days before his death, General Dean said that from 1947 to 1960 he was a home and commercial builder. He constructed residences in the Ruxton, Hampton and Fellowship Forest sections of Towson, as well as Allegheny Avenue buildings near York Road.

He was also involved with the conception and construction of Padonia Park Club on a 40-acre farm he once owned in the Chestnut Ridge section of Baltimore County.

In 1960, General Dean began working full time for the Guard and was promoted to chief of staff in 1972.

"My father managed and led by visiting his commands on a regular basis. He would show up unannounced early in the morning and observe how a unit functioned," his son said. "Even though he was commanding nearly 6,000 men and women, he knew many of them by name and ability, sergeants, warrant officers, as well as officers."

In 1975, he was appointed commanding general, the second-highest position under Maryland's adjutant general. Newspaper stories noted that General Dean worked successfully to increase African-American enlistment in the National Guard.

General Dean held the position until retiring in October 1981.

His son said he was a man "who could get a job done without fanfare." In 1964, he was called upon to be commander of reserve forces for Gen. Douglas MacArthur's military funeral in Washington.

When Lord Louis Mountbatten, supreme Allied commander for Southeast Asia during World War II, made a ceremonial visit to St. Mary's City in 1976, General Dean accompanied him.

"He was deeply interested in history," said Mr. Balkoski, the National Guard historian. "He was approachable and a pleasant person to be around. He was much admired by his fellow military people."

In 1994 General Dean was appointed to Maryland's World War II Memorial Commission and worked with its architects and builders throughout the construction at a site overlooking the Severn River and Annapolis. He traveled several days weekly from his home in Cockeysville to oversee operations.

"His was proud to bring it in on time and within budget," his son said of the memorial dedicated in 1998.

General Dean was a member of the Masons and Shriners. Family members said he enjoyed working on the annual Shrine Circus at the Timonium fairgrounds. He bowled duckpins in the Misfits League in Towson and Timonium.

His wife of 62 years, the former Estelle Gilbert, died in 2004.

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Gregory Dean of Cockeysville; two sisters, Lucille Hetrick of Randallstown and Betty Main of Boone, N.C.; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

A military funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. John's United Methodist Church, 216 W. Seminary Ave. in Lutherville, where he was chair of the church council at his death.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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