Fort Meade recognizes sacrifice of veterans

Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs George Owings III accepts a $2,000 check for the Maryland Veterans Trust Fund at Fort Meade’s Annual Veterans Appreciation Day Luncheon on Saturday at Club Meade. Owings was the guest speaker. (Photo by Kirk Conover)

Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs George W. Owings III has a special connection to Fort Meade.

In 1946, his father George W. Owings Jr. separated from Fort Meade as a first lieutenant after serving in the Army for three years.

Owings said he has “cherished documents” verifying his father’s time at Fort Meade.

“I’m going to pass [them] onto his great-grandsons,” he said.

Owings spoke about his father in his speech as guest speaker at Fort Meade’s annual Veterans Appreciation Day Luncheon on Saturday.

The nearly three-hour luncheon, held at Club Meade, was hosted by the Retired Officers’ Wives’ Club. It was co-sponsored by the Association of the United States Army, Enlisted Spouses’ Club, Military Officers’ Association of America, Military Order of the World Wars, Officers’ Spouses’ Club and The Enlisted Association.

The event included a somber Fallen Comrade Ceremony and a patriotic music tribute by vocalist Jason Buckwalter and pianist Aaron Thacker of the Modell Lyric Opera of Baltimore.

“This was very nice, well done,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Earl Wade, a Vietnam veteran.

“It’s good to see that people appreciate what we did. Glad to see that the younger generation [of veterans] doesn’t have to go through what we went through. I’m glad and happy to see that they are appreciated, too.”

Retired Col. Erwin Burtnick, commander of the George G. Meade chapter of the Military Order of World Wars, served as the emcee.

The National Security Color Guard posted the colors and Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Terry Whiteside gave the invocation. Claire Barnett, an ESC member, sang the national anthem.

ROWC President Audrey Rothstein thanked the participating organizations and recognized Lianne Roberts, former ROWC president and co-chair of the luncheon committee.

Roberts, who is relocating to Greenwood, S.C., in April with her husband, Joseph, served as ROWC president for four years and has co-chaired the Veterans Appreciation Day Luncheon for six years.

“You are an amazing role model and extremely hard worker and you will be missed by ROWC and Fort Meade,” Rothstein said.

Roberts received a gift box filled with messages from the Fort Meade community.

“It’s been fun,” she said, holding back tears.

Honoring The Past

Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard, attended the luncheon with his wife, Lisa, a veteran. Rickard said it was a privilege for him to participate in the event.

“Thanks to those of you who have served before and to those of you who are still serving,” he said, “because we, those of us in uniform today, stand on the shoulders of giants — on the shoulders of people who came before us and served … in times of war and peace.”

The Fallen Comrades Ceremony was led by retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kirk Conover, senior vice commander of MOWW. Conover explained the significance of a table set with a white table cloth and the items displayed on the table, which stood at the front of the ballroom.

The items included a white bone china plate, a single rose, a yellow ribbon, a slice of lemon and an inverted glass.

“The small table, set for one, is in a place of honor,” Conover said. “This table is our way of acknowledging that members of our proud profession of arms are missing from our midst.

“We call them brothers and sisters. We call them comrades.”

Marine Cpl. Bryson Walker of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion lit the single white candle on the table as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of fallen service members.

“Remember, all of you who served with them and called them comrades, who relied upon their strength, experience and insight and aid,” Conover said. “Remember, for surely they have not forsaken you.”

During his speech, Owings spoke about the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which was signed by President Donald Trump in August.

The law calls for the “Reform of rights and processes relating to appeals of decisions regarding claims for benefits under laws administered by Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” according to a congressional website.

Owings said veterans who file claims for appeals of their disability ratings often have to wait years for a reply. He said, hopefully, the new law will “speed this up” and “streamline the existing process.”

Owings also briefly spoke about the current opioid epidemic and the need for mental health services for veterans and their family members.

“It’s unfortunate,” Owings said of the epidemic. “It could be anybody. If the pain is great enough, you will find relief wherever you can find it.”

Owings also spoke about the suicide rate among women veterans.

“The worst human emotion in my vocabulary is despair,” he said. “ … One suicide is one too many. We do all that we can do.”

After the speech, Roberts and Althea Freeman, co-chair of the luncheon committee, presented Owings with a $2,000 check for the Maryland Veterans Trust Fund. The donation was made by the Veterans Appreciation Day Committee, ESC and OSC.

The trust fund makes grants and loans to veterans and their family members in dire financial straits and to private organizations that help veterans.

“It’s been an absolute lifesaver,” Owings said of the organization. “Thank you.”

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