To the steady beat of a single drum, participants in a stunning parade of patriotism and color marched down the aisles of the Fort Meade Pavilion.
All heads turned as dozens of color guards in uniform, representing about 50 military units, veterans groups, civic and youth organizations, police officers and firefighters, entered the rear of the facility carrying American and service flags.
The procession marked the 29th Annual Massing of the Colors and Memorial Day Remembrance, hosted Sunday afternoon by the Gen. George G. Meade chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars.
More than 400 people attended the 90-minute event, which celebrates the flag and honors those who have served and continue to serve the country.
“It was wonderful — all of the colors, the young people marching with the fire department, police,” said Barbara Childs, who marched for American Legion Unit 19 in Baltimore, the oldest post in the state. “Everybody looked so pleased coming in.”
The grand marshal and keynote speaker was Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. CyberCommand, director of the National Security Agency and chief of the Central Security Service. Retired Col. Kent Menser, a former garrison commander of Fort Meade, served as emcee.
The event also included an acknowledgment of Gold Star family members; a demonstration by members of the U.S. Army Drill Team; and a concert by the U.S. Army Field Band’s Concert Band and Soldiers’ Chorus.
A bagpiper led the official party to the stage. In his welcome, Garrison Commander Col. Brian Foley recognized the variety of veterans, first responders and family members in attendance.
“Today is a gathering of organizations whose members are dedicated to protecting and preserving the patriotic lineage of this great country,” he said. “With us are veterans of every conflict our nation has engaged in since World War II.
“… We are [also] honored by the presence of military spouses and families past and present who, in most cases, did not have a choice, but who all serve and sacrifice with equal honor.”
During his speech, Rogers praised that “service and sacrifice” of military members and their families. “Today isn’t about me, it’s about you — from the young to the very old,” he said.
Rogers was equally quick to credit the civilians who support service members. “Life in uniform taught me that service and sacrifice is not unique to those who wear the uniform,” he said. “Look to your left and right. The people sitting there are united by service to our country.”
Nor, he said, are patriotism and altruism limited to any particular group.
“Service and sacrifice doesn’t know any age or ethnicity or a sex,” Rogers said. “This room is filled with people who devoted a portion of their life to service and sacrifice.”
The colors, he said, represent the country’s ideals. “The flag, so powerful, is a physical embodiment of the values of our nation. I always think of freedom — the freedom the flag brought to our citizens and people around the world.”
But, Rogers said, service often bears the onus of sacrifice and loss.
“We tend to focus on serving, but Memorial Day is a visible reminder that sacrifice is behind that flag,” Rogers said. “The greatest pain in the world is to lose those closest to us. On behalf of the military, thank you for your willingness to bear that sacrifice. Thank you for your willingness to be part of something bigger than yourselves.”
After the procession, the Armed Forces Color Guard, from the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region Military District of Washington, presented the colors accompanied by the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps of Virginia.
Maryland color guards — ranging from firefighters bearing ceremonial axes to the Knights of Columbus sporting feathered hats — included U.S. CyberCommand, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, the Maryland State Police, Scout troops and the Fort Meade Young Marines.
“It was great,” said Col. Michael Shrout of First Army Division East, who attended with his wife, Lisa, and their three daughters. “I like to see all the different generations represented, from the kids to the old veterans. It’s important to carry on these traditions to the next generation.”
Shrout’s daughters marched with their respective scout troops, including an 11-year-old named Anslee of Troop 2000 in Severna Park. “I felt really excited and happy to be a part of it,” the fifth-grader said.
Cadets in the Meade High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps offered support to other organizations.
“I was given a separate flag to carry,” said Meade High School Sophomore Trent Dowell, 16. “It was fun to see all the different flags represented and people from all the branches.”
In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, Menser cited a series of tragic statistics that included the number of service members killed, wounded, taken prisoner or who died in captivity.
In memory of the fallen, a lone bugler played “Taps.” A field band vocalist then performed the riveting “Ballad of the Green Berets.”
But in an instant, the somber ceremony turned festive, as the field band played a Motown medley from the Vietnam era. Grinning audience members swayed their shoulders and clapped to such hits as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “My Guy” and “Dancing in the Streets”; the Motown songs were followed by Neil Diamond’s “America” and the rousing patriotic standard, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.
Among the audience members was Bill Hallstead, who retired in 1981 from the Air Force as a technical sergeant, then worked at the National Security Agency for 19 years.
“I do this every year — visit, see all the colors,” he said. “I’m about as patriotic as you can get. What I enjoy most is just seeing veterans who served before me and who served after me.”
This article was submitted by the Fort Meade Public Affairs Office.