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Historical Society is Driving Force Behind Preservation

Published: 2006-09-16
Author: Wayde R. Minami
Article ID: 2006_09_16_2963

Poised atop a scissors-lift extended 15 feet into the air, Albert Schweitzer and Joseph Gutierrez used a mixture of careful planning and even more carefully applied muscle to free a 200-pound glass case - and the irreplaceable regimental flag mounted inside it - from the wall bracket that had held it for nearly half a century. Although the two retired Maryland Army National Guard officers are both civilian employees at the Fifth Regiment Armory, that wasn't what brought them in to the armory on this particular Saturday in April. Schweitzer and Gutierrez, along with a half-dozen other volunteers gathered by the Maryland Military Historical Society, were on hand because they saw a critical situation that needed to be addressed. The society, which traces its origins to the Maryland National Guard Memorial Library Committee established in 1973, has long been a driving force behind preserving the history of Maryland's men and women in uniform. Incorporated as a non-profit entity in 1982, it was the historical society that established the museum located in the Fifth Regiment Armory. The society now works in partnership with the Maryland Center for Military History, which has taken over stewardship of the museum and is operated by the Maryland National Guard Joint Force Headquarters Historical Services Office. "The purpose [of the society] has been to promote the Maryland military legacy throughout the state," said Brig. Gen. (Md.) I. John Vaccarino, president of the Maryland Military Historical Society. "The society is devoted to working with the State of Maryland, with the Military Department, and with the Center for Military History to further the recognition of the efforts and the exploits of Maryland militia through the years." Through its board of directors, the society has traditionally sought to tap the expertise of community leaders, experts in historic preservation and Military Department officials with a passion for history. One thing it hasn't sought is participation by the general public - until now. "When the historical society was formed, there was a reluctance on the part of many of the members of the board of directors to go public - that is, to encourage people at large to become members of the historical society," Vaccarino said. "There were very good reasons for that, I think, in the early days, but in today's environment we realized that in order to increase public awareness, in order to increase our net income, we have to turn to the general public, we have to turn to military members themselves, to become members, to support the historical society in what we do." As a result, the society recently created several categories of general membership, with annual dues starting at $25. Higher levels of membership are available for those who want to make a greater contribution. The society plans to use monies raised from its members to support future preservation efforts. One example Vaccarino cited was the cost associated with preserving the historic flags in the Maryland National Guard collection. A 2001 survey of the flag collection put the cost of conservation at over $330,000, not including the cost of storage cases. A $50,000 grant provided the initial capital to begin tackling the project, but fell well short of the amount needed to complete it. "The cases themselves cost us in excess of $30,000," Vaccarino said. "The project is on-going." For Gutierrez, being directly involved with preserving history was as much love as it was labor. "I just find it fascinating and the people are great to work around," he said. Gutierrez said that the best part was "being up there and looking at the flags close up - I've always seen them from the floor, but I've never been that close to them - and seeing the different colors that are on them that you really don't get from the floor." According to Vaccarino, the state and the city are considering converting the area around the Fifth Regiment Armory into a major cultural center. If this happens, it may bring new opportunities for the Maryland Center for Military History to grow, and with it, more need than ever for the support the historical society provides. "Future projects call for working with the Center for Military History as it expands within the Fifth Regiment Armory," Vaccarino said. "We look at the armory being a centerpoint within that cultural center, and eventually the museum will occupy a much larger space within the armory."
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