Fort Meade celebrates Army birthday, Flag Day
History of the National Anthem highlights celebration
By Lisa R. Rhodes
The 90-minute breakfast and lecture, held at Club Meade, was hosted by the Francis Scott Key chapter of the Association of the United States Army. About 200 people attended.
"It is a great day to be a Solider, is it not?" said retired Sgt. Maj. Jim Gilbert, president of the AUSA chapter. "Two hundred and thirty seven years, that's how old we are today. We don't look quite that old, but we're doing a great job."
Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein and 1st Sgt. Wayne J. Aragon of Headquarters Command Battalion, who stood in for Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith as acting garrison command sergeant major, attended the event.
They were joined by Fort Meade's oldest Soldiers, retired Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab, age 92, and retired Sgt. 1st Class Carlo DePorto, age 91.
Fort Meade's youngest Soldier, 18-year-old Pfc. Scott Cassidy of the U.S. Army Signal School Detachment at the Defense Information School, also attended.
Students from the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Meade High School were joined by the program's commander, Col. Frank Preston, and Meade High Principal Yolanda Clarke. The Fort Meade Community Credit Union sponsored the students.
During his remarks, Rothstein addressed the significance of the event.
"Two-hundred and thirty-seven years ago, it all started -- rags to riches," he said. "A bunch of farmers, peddlers, folks for all the right reasons, gathered together against incredible odds, against annihilation. They stood up and they made it happen."
Rothstein encouraged everyone in the audience to "get out into the community and remind folks that it's our birthday."
The annual breakfast began with the posting of the colors by the Defense Information School's color guard. Retired Sgt. Maj. Mike Culbertson, a former member of the U.S. Army Field Band, sang the National Anthem.
Deputy Installation Chaplain (Maj.) Boguslaw Augustyn gave the invocation. Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, who is known as Fort Meade's "Old Soldier," led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Gilbert then announced that Fort Meade's Director of Transformation Bert Rice, a retired colonel, has been named the AUSA second region's Department of the Army Civilian of the Year. Rice will compete for the national title in October.
Scott Sheads, a 30-year veteran of the National Park Service and a ranger/historian at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, later gave an entertaining summation of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.
Sheads began his talk by recalling how, several years ago, a 22-year-old school teacher and her class visited Fort Henry for a tour. As Sheads talked about the site's history the young woman asked, "When was the War of 1812?"
Sheads said he was a bit baffled by her question, but was really surprised when the teacher told him that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the theme song of the Baltimore Orioles.
"I still think about it a lot," Sheads said. "Here's a nice lady -- impeccably dressed -- [and] somehow through her life, her education, somehow history had slipped through the cracks for her."
Sheads said that is why the National Park Service sponsors outreach programs to the community and why he was glad to come to Fort Meade.
The Battle of Baltimore began on Sept. 13, 1814, several weeks after the British navy torched the nation's capitol.
"Fifty miles away in Baltimore the citizens could see the glow of that fire," Sheads said. "They knew Baltimore would be next."
At that time, Sheads said that Baltimore was the richest port on the East Coast, with a population of 50,000.
The battle started when five British ships bombarded Fort McHenry for 25 hours, using 200-pound, cast-iron exploding shells. Sheads said about 1,800 shells were launched at Fort McHenry during the attack.
People from Baltimore, Delaware and Pennsylvania helped to defend the city. During the battle, Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer from Georgetown, watched the bombardment while under British guard on an American truce ship.
At 9 a.m. on Sept. 14, 1814, two hours after the British sailed away and the attack ended, a 30-by-42 garrison flag was raised over Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the flag that morning, was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"Two weeks later, Key's song is published," Sheads said. "Within two months, every newspaper in the 18 states had published the lyrics."
Sheads' lecture was followed by the official cake-cutting, led by Rothstein, who joined Shehab, DePorto and Cassidy in the brief ceremony.
"As far as I'm concerned, the greatest generation is the one that's in uniform right now," Shehab said later. "I was proud to wear the uniform and I still wear it."
DePorto said although he retired from the Army in 1972, he remains dedicated to his country.
"Upstairs, in my mind, I'm still in the military," he said.
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