EASTON — A crowd gathered to welcome home six redeploying soldiers on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Brigadier General (Md) Louis G. Smith Armory in Easton. The soldiers from the 729th Combat Support Company, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Weishaupt, Staff Sgt. Stephen Leonard, Spc. James Cain, Spc. Janae Dorman, Spc. Ashly Ridgely and Spc. Drakkar Creighton, were returning from a deployment in Poland as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Returning home just before the holidays was something the soldiers were excited about.
“It’s amazing,” Weishaput said of returning home in time for Thanksgiving, “Especially because we missed the holidays last year.”
While some of the soldiers were welcomed home by loved ones, others hadn’t told their families about their return, hoping to provide a holiday surprise.
“I’m glad to be back,” Creighton said. “I haven’t told them (his family) yet, it’s going to be a big surprise.”
Creighton, a water treatment specialist, was driving back to his hometown in Salisbury to surprise his family. Dorman, also a water treatment specialist, was excited to be home and to surprise her family.
“I am so happy to be home,” Dorman said. “I am surprising my family as well, they have no clue that I’m home.”
As part of a logistical unit, the soldiers set up and operated a Fuel System Supply Point, serving military units from four countries. Weishaupt, a platoon sergeant who oversaw the fueling operations, was proud of their hard work.
“The mission went well,” he said. “We operated the world’s largest FSSP, the first one run by the National Guard in all of Europe.”
Operation Atlantic Resolve began in April 2014, under the U.S. European Command. A statement about the operation issued by the command in 2015 reads, “The United States continues to demonstrate its commitment to the collective security of our NATO allies and support for our partners in Europe, in light of the ongoing Russian intervention in Ukraine.”
Members of the American Legion Talbot Post 70 and E.E. Streets Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5118; officers from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office, Easton Police Department and Maryland State Police; and firefighters from the Easton Volunteer Fire Department were on hand to welcome the soldiers home. They joined The American Heritage Girls Troop 0414, members of motorcycle clubs and friends and family to welcome the soldiers home.
EASTON — Talbot County Public Schools will return to all virtual learning beginning Thursday, Nov. 19, the district announced Monday evening in response to a significant rise in reported coronavirus infections in the county.
The development comes after Talbot County saw its COVID-19 daily new case rate per 100,000 people increase over the weekend to 16.5 on Monday and its positivity rate rise to above 5%. Tuesday marked the county’s fourth consecutive day reporting a case rate above 10 and its second day above 15, at 17.7.
County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley said she has been watching the daily new case rate closely as an indicator of whether it’s safe to keep schools open for face-to-face instruction. A case rate above 15, Wadley has said, is cause at least for a reevaluation of the district’s hybrid learning model, which has been active since Oct. 12.
TCPS Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith said in a notice to students and parents Monday that Wadley recommended the school system return to virtual schooling because the local health metrics indicate a high virus transmission risk among residents.
“This is certainly not what we hoped for, but we must work together to try to keep our children, our staff and our community as safe as possible,” Griffith wrote. “In conjunction with the health department we will continue to monitor the positivity rate and new cases per 100,000, and we will reevaluate the opportunity to resume in-person learning on a weekly basis.”
The school system also has paused all in-person athletics and extra-curricular activities indefinitely, according to the notice from Griffith.
TCPS has not reported a coronavirus outbreak in its schools. As of Tuesday, Nov. 17, none of the district’s schools was listed on the Maryland Department of Health’s dashboard among schools reporting virus spread between at least two individuals within the school setting.
The Talbot County health department reported Tuesday 50 residents are actively infected with the virus, and 720 have contracted the virus to date.
The Talbot County Education Association said in a statement it supports the district’s move to all distance learning. “TCEA member safety remains our focus as we deliver education services to our community,” the union wrote.
“We ask that our community continues to abide by the basic safety protocols to wash our hands often, wear a mask for our own safety and that of our neighbor, and to keep our six feet distance,” TCEA’s statement read. “When we each participate, it benefits us all.”
Wadley did not respond to The Star Democrat‘s questions Monday and Tuesday about the decision to close classrooms to students. The health officer had not provided any public comment on the development by Tuesday evening.
ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan is ordering restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. starting Friday in response to the rise in reported COVID-19 cases.
Hogan said during a briefing in Annapolis on Tuesday, Nov. 17, that the state was also issuing new orders restricting visitations at nursing homes, telling hospitals to put off elective surgeries and cutting allowed capacities at fitness centers, stores and other venues.
Hogan’s restaurant order follows a similar action on restaurant closing times ordered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“This order carries the full force of the law and it will be enforced,” Hogan said of the restaurant order and restrictions on standing at bars.
Hogan is also restricting attendance at sporting events. Hogan is rolling back a previous order issued last month allowing for limited fans at Baltimore Ravens and Washington Football Team games.
Hogan said he was on a coronavirus conference call with Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci on the rise in reported cases across the country.
He said he will also be meeting with Joe Biden and his transition team on the rise in COVID cases on Thursday.
Hogan, a Republican, does not support President Donald Trump and has urged him to concede the 2020 race to Biden.
“This will be my first opportunity to talk to the president-elect,” Hogan said.
Trump has refused to concede to Biden claiming media projections of the race are based in illegally counted votes and faulty software. A number of court cases brought by the Trump campaign have failed to gain traction thus far with various courts.
“We have to make sure there is a smooth handoff,” Hogan said of his concerns about the presidential transition and the rise of COVID cases.
He stressed his concerns about the rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations nationally. “This is not the flu. This is not fake news. This is not going to magically disappear,” Hogan said.
Maryland and other states have seen a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
There has also been a rise in COVID testing statewide and nationally. Hogan encouraged Marylanders to get more COVID tests as the holidays approach.
The Maryland Department of Health reported 2,149 new COVID cases on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The agency also reported 27,740 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours. There are currently 1,046 patients hospitalized for COVID statewide with 61 new ones reported Tuesday.
The state health agency also reported 26 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday. That brings Maryland’s death toll from the virus to 4,186.
The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is 6.85% statewide and 5.53% in Talbot County.
Those are above the 5% benchmarks set by the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Hogan said hospitalizations are their highest levels since June.
“We are in a war right now and the virus is winning,” Hogan said.
Hogan is also frustrated with lack of compliance with state orders related to masks and social distancing.
“Violations of the public health emergency orders is a crime,” he said, adding violators can face fines and even jail time.
The Maryland governor also said Tuesday the Maryland Department of Health has issued orders restricting visitors at nursing homes, allowing overloaded hospitals to transfer patients to other facilities and reducing the number of elective surgeries.
The order also includes requiring COVID tests twice a week for nursing home employees and once a week for patients. Visitors will also have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test before they are allowed to visit a facility, Hogan said.
TILGHMAN ISLAND — Local war hero Reese Harrison, who passed away from cancer in 1978, was posthumously awarded four military medals on Nov. 15 for his service and imprisonment during the Korean War — 67 years later.
Tilghman Watermen’s Museum invited 23 of Harrison’s family members, including children and grandchildren, to witness a triumphant ceremony at the local firehouse, finally honoring Harrison with long overdue medals he never received during his lifetime.
Harrison, who grew up and passed away on Tilghman Island, survived more than two years as a prisoner of war (POW) in North Korea before returning home on Sept. 18, 1953, to a welcoming crowd of 2,000 people.
While he was given badges, including one as a sharpshooter, he was never awarded the following medals: United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with 1 Bronze Star and a Prisoner of War Medal.
Tilghman Watermen’s Museum President Ted Cutler corrected that.
Cutler arranged Harrison’s rightful medals around a standing frame that held a photograph of a young, uniformed Harrison in the center. Cutler gave a speech to the family gathered in the firehouse, telling them that this recognition, even if late, matters.
“We know what it means,” he said. “He was in prison for two years and four months and he was 19 years old. Think about that. These are the medals he deserves.”
Gov. Larry Hogan also awarded an honorable citation to Harrison’s family, which was presented by Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“As the people of Maryland join together in expressing our nation’s admiration, gratitude and great respect for the courageous deeds and services of a beloved and distinguished Maryland veteran,” she said, “we are pleased to prefer upon you this citation.”
Harrison’s family was kept in the dark about the medals, with Cutler hoping to surprise them at the ceremony. Junie, Harrison’s widow, was visibly moved by the awards. After the ceremony, she said Harrison’s military service was remarkable and “it’s very important to honor that.”
“It means the world to me,” Junie added. “I know (Harrison) was looking down. I know he was proud.”
Harrison’s grand return home in 1953 is captured at the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum, with newspaper clippings documenting the story of the parade and crowds that welcomed him back. He’s the most well-known war hero in Tilghman, and one of the more celebrated veterans in Talbot County, along with Easton’s Norman Harrington, a photographer during World War 2.
Cutler was always in awe of Harrison, and board member Johnny Kinnamon knew him before he passed away. The two spearheaded the effort to retrieve his rightful medals after talking to Junie’s friend last year, who mentioned that Harrison was never awarded them.
“As we talked about it, we realized ‘Jeez, he never really got the awards he should have gotten,’” he said. “So we started doing some research, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
What followed was a yearlong effort to find Harrison’s records — to prove he deserved the medals.
One roadblock was that the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, had burned down in 1973, claiming millions of records, including Harrison’s.
So Cutler and Kinnamon put in calls to local politicians, including Johnny Mautz (R-37B) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md-1st), who helped dig out draft records from the Army. Harrison retired as a corporal from the Army after he returned home.
“We could not have done this without our local politicians,” Cutler said.
By the summer, the two had the records gathered, as well as the rightful medals. They began planning the ceremony for Junie and her family around Veteran’s Day.
Mary Kellogg, the founder of Tilghman Watermen’s Museum, praised Cutler and Kinnamon, who did all of the work unpaid.
“They said all it took was a couple phone calls, but it took them a year to do. They volunteered a lot of their time,” she said, adding that it was very meaningful to Tilghman. “This meets our mission because it is community based and we are here for the community.”
Junie said Harrison would have appreciated the medals, but he was a humble man who “always thought of others before himself.” He would have liked to steer the conversation toward all the veterans America celebrates during this time of year, she said.
At his welcoming parade in 1953, Harrison himself told the crowd that it was not about him. It was a day for all the men and women who serve their country.
“I did nothing special myself,” he said. “This ceremony should honor all servicemen.”