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Pa. National Guard celebrates 250th

August 26, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Bill Trace and 14 buddies were at a fireman's carnival in Waynesboro in 1951 when they walked by a Pennsylvania National Guard recruiters tent.

"It was an impulse. One guy said, `Let's join up,' so we all did, right there. I was 171/2," Trace said.

He retired as a master sergeant in 1994.

When Trace joined, the unit was 22 years old. It was organized as a cavalry outfit in 1929. Remnants of horse stalls are evident in the bowels of the armory building on North Grant Street, now home to Detachment One, 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery, one of several units the National Guard has assigned to the building over the decades.

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Today, tank-like, self-propelled howitzers sit on the armory's front lawn. Trace said the guns can hit a target 29 miles away in Gettysburg, Pa.

The unit has three of the weapons plus a fleet of support vehicles. It was organized in 1995 in a break from a unit in Gettysburg. It has 82 members, nine short of its authorized complement, said Capt. Scott Mathna, unit commander.

The Pennsylvania National Guard this year celebrates its 250th anniversary and in honor of that milestone, as well as Waynesboro's Bicentennial, an open house will be held today through Sunday at the armory.

Sgt. Mitchell Foster, the unit's only full-time employee and its training officer, said the open house will allow area residents to see how the Guard works and tour its military museum. It also will give the unit a chance to do some recruiting. So far 12 candidates have shown interest, Foster said.

The Guard's education assistance program, now in effect, pays up to two-thirds tuition in state-funded colleges in return for a six-year hitch, Foster said. Guardsmen train one weekend a month and two weeks a year, he said.

"We have a proud tradition here in Pennsylvania. The Guard was organized by Benjamin Franklin in 1747," he said. The nation's first militia was formed in 1636 in Massachusetts.

Trace still comes to the armory every day. In addition to his $780 monthly Guard retirement check, he is the armory's custodian. "The job keeps me in touch with the guys," he said.

The armory was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, which constructed Waynesboro High School and the town's sewer system at the same time, Trace said.

The local unit was mobilized for a year of training in January 1941 and sent to active duty when Pearl Harbor was bombed the following December. It saw action in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany during World War II, according to the unit's history.

It was disbanded in 1945 and reorganized two years later, then was mobilized again during the Korean War.

Peacetime missions included assistance with the Johnstown floods of 1936 and 1977, Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and other area disasters.

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