The first turnings of earth at Ft. Meade mark the beginning of Centennial Park

A groundbreaking tribute

May 25, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

It was 1944 when Alfred Shehab first arrived at Fort Meade. He came from Georgia to get outfitted with gear and shipped off to Europe, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

The Army post was also the last station of his military career; he retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Convinced that Fort Meade should have a memorial park to honor fallen soldiers, the Odenton man later led a decade of discussions and planning that culminated yesterday with the groundbreaking of Centennial Park.

"This will be something that will remind future warriors of the units that were here and a touch of the history that was so important," said Shehab, chairman of the Battle of the Bulge Historical Foundation.

The foundation, which has a monument on post grounds, will move it into the 11-acre park across from the McGlachlin Parade Field Gazebo. The Fort George G. Meade Museum Historical Foundation will donate a $2 million, 38-foot-tall memorial arch to anchor the park.

The archway will be framed by two colonnades in a semicircle. A walkway will lead into a grassy courtyard. Tree-lined sidewalks will branch out to the various memorials, and families can have their fallen soldier's name inscribed on the archway.

About 120 people, including about 90 veterans, attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

"I ask you to close your eyes and share the vision ... of the possibilities for this park as a place for rest, relaxation and a place for remembrance," said Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, the installation commander, told the 120 people, including 90 veterans, at the ceremony.McCreedy said he doesn't know how much the project will cost or how long it will take to complete because all the memorials have not been planned yet.

Congress created Camp Meade in May 1917 as one of six temporary camps to house soldiers.

It was named in honor of Gen. George G. Meade, who commanded Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. The initial building phase was finished by September of that year and more than 10,000 men would train there over the next year for World War I.

When Camp Meade became a permanent installation, it was renamed Fort Leonard Wood in 1928.

However, the name was changed after Pennsylvania objected to Meade's name being removed. The post was a major staging area for World War II with 3.5 million men passing through it.

Now the post, which is focused more on administrative, technical and intelligence work, is preparing for a major expansion as part of the military base realignment and closure (BRAC) process, adding 6,000 defense personnel by September 2011.

The warm sun, cool breeze and quiet on Fort Meade yesterday belied its hectic past.

McCreedy honored Dave Burget, president of the Museum Historical Foundation with a certificate and an original print of Fort Meade. Burget talked about the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in past wars and referred to the sacrifice that soldiers and their families are making now.

"There are no makeup days for missed births," said Burget, a West Point graduate and former commander of Tipton Army Airfield at Fort Meade. "Nothing can measure the pain of a gold-star mother who lived the pain of every parent who has buried a child."

Shehab and other veterans lamented the fact that many people still don't attend Veterans' Day remembrances. The veterans said they hope the park will be a place where the community can visit on holidays to pay their respects.

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