Sunshine and a clear blue sky set the backdrop for Fort Meade’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony.
Military and community members gathered Nov. 10 at the Memorial Plaza outside the Fort Meade Museum to honor those have served and sacrificed for their country. The afternoon ceremony was followed by an indoor reception.
The guest speakers were U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes and Paul Cora, the chairman of the Western Front Association East Coast Branch.
The ceremony began with the singing of the national anthem by Sgt. 1st Class Randall Wight of the U.S. Army Field Band. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Cooper gave the invocation.
In their speeches, both Sarbanes and Cora focused on World War I. Sarbanes, who addressed the crowd first, highlighted the 100th-year commemoration of the Great War and the role that Fort Meade played in ensuring America’s success.
He went on to explain the fortuitous timing of Veterans Day and the recent national election.
“[Veterans Day is] our first opportunity to demonstrate real solidarity as a nation, where we don’t think of ourselves by any political stripe, we only think of ourselves as Americans,” Sarbanes said. “There is no better topic, no better focus for that kind of coming together than our veterans.”
Sarbanes saluted veterans, active-duty service members and their families for their service and sacrifice.
A Rich History
Robert Johnson, the curator of the Fort Meade Museum, introduced Cora, who gave a detailed description about Fort Meade’s contribution to World War I.
“The genesis of what would be Camp Meade, beginning in the summer of 1917, was part of a massive mobilization that was unprecedented in American history,” Cora said. “Within 18 months, some 2 million American troops of the American Expeditionary Forces had arrived in France — some 400,000 of those passing through Camp Meade in the process.”
Cora went on to weave a vivid description of World War I, the doughboys who fought and the precedent that the war’s outcome set for the U.S. as a world power.
He mentioned the historic conscription of black service members and how one of the two black infantry divisions trained at Camp Meade.
“For Americans of color, the unprecedented mobilization of World War I provided a catalyst for advancing the cause of equal citizenship,” Cora said. “There were two African-American infantry divisions that would deploy to Europe. … Elements of one of these, the 93rd Infantry Division, trained right here at Camp Meade.”
After Cora spoke, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard presented him with a tile from the roof of the installations original headquarters in 1930. The tile was painted in dedication to Cora from Team Meade.
“Each of us should pause, if we have not already, to think about why we do Veterans Day in the first place,” Rickard said.
Originally designated as Armistice Day in 1918, Veterans Day has been observed on Nov. 11 since 1954.
The Navy detachment from the Defense Information School Color Guard lowered the flag for the retiring of the colors after the 45-minute ceremony.
Among those who also attended was Brenda Pullen, program manager of Information, Referral and Follow-Up at Army Community Service.
“This kind of event is important so that we can let the community see how proud we are of our service members who put their life in harm’s way to defend our country and their families,” she said.
Pullen, who served as a captain in the Army Reserve and a retired Montgomery County teacher, is a Girl Scout troop leader. For the past 16 years, she’s been taking her troop to lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.
“[Service members] are the backbone of our country,” Pullen said. “Every chance I have to give back to the community, I’m there.”
Pride in Service
Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Chambers, Fort Meade’s senior Equal Opportunity adviser, said he was moved by Cora’s retelling of those who served in World War I.
“Hearing about the brigade of African-American Soldiers that fought in World War I and trained at Camp Meade was inspiring,” Chambers said. “That was pre-Civil War and their service reiterated the fight for civil rights.
“I have huge respect for them to serve their nation when there were social issues going on at the time.”
For Chambers, who has served in the Army for the past 17 years, the importance of celebrating Veterans Day is two-fold.
“First and foremost, I [attended this event] because I am a Soldier and have participated in conflict,” he said. “Second, I wanted to pay respect and honor to all veterans past and present.”
Events that commemorate the sacrifice of service members help give the military community a sense of belonging, Chambers said.
“We are celebrating 100 years of military service and sacrifice,” he said. “That’s what Veterans Day is — all branches of service come together on common ground. When we go to war, we go together.”
Celebrating Veterans Day extends beyond the gate. Communities surrounding military installations provide service members with discounts on goods and recognition of their service.
“Community members receive us when we come home from war — if we come home,” Chambers said. “Veterans sign up to pay the ultimate price. We want local businesses and schools to have a sense of belonging and connection to the military.
“It’s important to give them the opportunity to appreciate veterans and say thank you.”