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1998 July 17
Fort Ritchie prepares to close
by Steve Blizard
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 28, 1998)--A ceremony July 17 at Fort Ritchie, Md., marked the end of an era and the closure of the post that has served the country more than 70 years.
More than 4,000 people were at the event, which was attended by U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes and Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, both from Maryland, retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters and Military District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. Robert R. Ivany. Also there as special guests were past commanders of the 7th Signal Command and Fort Ritchie's U.S. Army Garrison.
Fort Ritchie will not officially close until Sept. 30, but the ceremony was conducted this month in order that the more than 800 soldiers and civilian employees still working on the post could be involved. During the next two months, most of Fort Ritchie's workforce will relocate to Fort Detrick, Md., or Letterkenny Army Depot, Pa.
The ceremony took place on the parade field adjacent to the Castle headquarters building and involved soldiers from Headquarters Company, 1111th Signal Battalion; Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Garrison and U.S. Army Security Force, Fort Detrick.
Symbolizing the post's inactivation, a six-soldier color guard lowered the U.S. Army Garrison flag, rolled it, cased it and removed it from the parade field. Ivany then told the audience that Fort Ritchie leaves behind a proud legacy.
"The nation is indebted for the 70 years of service provided by Fort Ritchie's military and civilian workforce," he said. Ivany said the military will return Fort Ritchie to the community where it will be used to help redevelop the community's economy.
Lt. Col. Francis D. Clepper Jr., Fort Ritchie commander, said the weather was an apt and timely analogy of the fort's closure. "The sky was gray and overcast, symbolizing the end of an era of faithful service. But, later the fog lifted and the sun broke through -- a harbinger of the future. There may be a cloud or two on the horizon, but the strength of the community is in its people, and they will be able to meet the complex and demanding challenge of the future."
Sarbanes spoke of the great partnership between the Army, PenMar Redevelopment Corporation and the community, and he commended PenMar and the Washington County commissioners for their leadership identifying redevelopment programs for Fort Ritchie after it closes.
Walters recalled that he was stationed at Fort Ritchie during World War II. He said he was sent there for military-intelligence training as an interpreter and was then sent to North Africa.
The general, who went on to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (1985-1988), ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany (1989-1991), and deputy director of the CIA and then worked as a private consultant and lecturer, said, "What is important, is that we never close the spirit that built Fort Ritchie -- the spirit that will keep it going into the future."
Following the closure ceremonies, spectators were treated to the post's final Twilight Tattoo performance by the U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," and the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard).
(Editor's note: Steve Blizzard is the Fort Ritchie Public Affairs Officer)
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