110th Field Artillery Takes A Bow

BACK STORY

August 02, 2009|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN

After nearly a century, Maryland's venerable 110th Field Artillery will soon fade into the history books.

Its colors will be furled for the last time in a solemn military deactivation ceremony that is open to the public and begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at its headquarters at the Pikesville Armory, 610 Reisterstown Road.

The unit, which traces its heritage to earlier artillery units in the Revolutionary War and the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812, is being phased out because of an Army reorganization.

"Everyone in the Army thinks differently [about] how we fight wars, and the artillery no longer figures into the Maryland National Guard picture," said Joseph Balkoski, command historian of the Maryland National Guard.

Lt. Col. Matthew L. Packard, who has commanded the 110th since 2007, now has the sad duty of having to oversee its demise.

"It's quite bittersweet because, for me, it was always a dream command. I get goose bumps when I think of the 110th's heritage," Packard said the other day.

"For the last year, we've been working on its deactivation. It's a difficult job and hard on everyone," he said. "But I'm proud of everyone and their work."

The unit was formally constituted as the Light Artillery Battery on Dec. 28, 1915, and two years later, was designated the 110th Field Artillery and assigned to the Maryland National Guard's 29th Infantry Division.

The 110th's coat-of-arms contains the Latin motto Sicut Quercus, meaning "As the Oak," and appears on the unit standard as well as at the head of all its official orders and publications.

"The 110th has been a fixture in Pikesville since 1915, and because it was originally a cavalry unit, it attracted a lot of Green Spring Valley types who were horsemen," Balkoski said.

"There were polo events on a field behind the armory, horse shows and an officers' fox hunting club and other horsemanship events," he said. "Such figures as Gen. George S. Patton participated in them."

In 1935, horses gave way to motorized vehicles, and as a farewell, the 110th staged a final horse show at Pimlico.

While deployed to France in 1918, the 110th saw training with French 75 mm artillery but no combat.

"This 'near-miss' in seeing action as a unit was a bitter anticlimax for the highly trained 110th - the cannoneers could find but slight consolation in the facts that many of their men had served as officers or key men in other units which did see action, or that they themselves had been trained to a keen readiness for combat," wrote Col. John Purley Cooper Jr., who commanded the 110th during World War II, in his book, The History of the 110th Field Artillery.

"John Purley Cooper was the 110th's greatest leader," Balkoski said.

The 110th was called up again for active duty on Feb. 3, 1941.

"They were called up for a year, and most people served five," Balkoski said.

As part of the 29th Infantry Division, elements of the 110th landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, with its main body landing the next day.

According to Balkoski, the 110th's Battery C, led by Capt. Arthur Flinner, fired its guns in its first combat engagement of World War II, and then for the next 11 months fought continuously in the European campaign.

"Brest, Holland, the Rhineland, crossing of the Roer and Rhine rivers, and Bremen, finally arriving home in 1946," Balkoski said.

In the postwar years, the 110th was not activated for the Korean War but served during the civil disturbances on the Eastern Shore in the early 1960s and the Baltimore riots in the wake of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

"After 9/11, they did guard duty in Baltimore, and in 2006 were deployed to guard the base at Guantanamo Bay," Balkoski said. "There was a call-up for Iraq, and some of the men did go."

At Saturday's ceremony, Balkoski said, "The Star-Spangled Banner" will be played and the old artilleryman's song, "The Caissons Go Rolling Along" will be sung.

The unit's flags will be placed out horizontally and slowly furled.

"It's very sad. You know, artillerymen are extremely close," Balkoski said.

"The flags are the palpable, physical representation of the generations of the men of the 110th that came before," he said. "It's the first time they will be furled since 1915."

Packard said an oak tree will then be dedicated on the grounds of the armory to the 110th.

"The flags will then be placed in leather cases and stored permanently at the 5th Regiment Armory," Balkoski said.

Footnote: A number of readers called and e-mailed in response to my Walter Cronkite column last week, saying that he kept a boat in Annapolis named On Assignment, and when he signed off for a vacation, told listeners he was going "on assignment."

A check with his old sailing buddy in Annapolis, Mike Ashford, as to the veracity of the story brought this response: "It's apocryphal. Walter owned no such boat."

And that's the way it is.

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