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Maryland Governor Herbert O'Conor Calls Forth the Militia in WWII

 

By David Kopel

Volokh.com, Feb. 13, 2008

Below is Maryland Governor Herbert O'Conor's March 10, 1942 radio address, asking for volunteers from, inter alia, the "membership rolls of Rifle Clubs, Trap Shooting Associations, Skeet Clubs and sportsmen's groups of every type" to help defend Maryland against potential German incursions, such as saboteurs. "[T]he volunteers, for the most part, will be expected to furnish their own weapons....The Maryland Minute Men, armed with weapons with which they are thoroughly familiar from long use, operating in a community in which they are accustomed to every road and trail and stream, and aroused to fighting pitch by the knowledge that they are serving to protect their own homes, their family and all that they hold dear in life, will prove a staunch defense against any enemy activity."

Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 409, Page 616

State Papers and Addresses of Governor Herbert L. O'Conor

MARYLAND MINUTE MEN RADIO STATION WFBR AND MARYLAND COVERAGE NETWORK

March 10, 1942, Baltimore

THE sincere hope of every person in Maryland is that our State may never experience invasion or attack. That we should consider such a thing as possible is in itself a terrible shock to the American state of mind. Nevertheless, with so much of the world overrun by the enemies of Democracy, and with the invasion of Java and New Guinea as well as other points in the Australian Archipelago fresh in our minds, we would be foolish, indeed, not to be prepared, as completely as possible, for any such happening, even here in Maryland.

Our people didn't want this war and, prior to the dastardly and cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor, the thought of sending American troops to fight in far-away lands was abhorrent to the minds of every American. Recent developments of the most threatening nature, however, have completely changed America's attitude toward the present conflict. The unexpected and continuing success of the Japanese forces, who have swept everything before them except General MacArthur's heroic band in the Philippines, have impressed on our minds most forcibly that new tactics are demanded.

That is why, in the recent past, there has become evident a tremendous demand on the part of Americans everywhere, that our leaders forsake a defensive policy and pursue this war in typical American fashion by carrying the offensive to the enemy at every possible point.

But this plan, if adopted, will make necessary additional protective forces in the states of our Country, particularly those like Maryland, situated along the coastlines. It is about this matter of necessity that I desire to speak to the people of Maryland tonight.

Let us review briefly the various steps, and then consider why and to what extent Maryland confronted with danger and what we must do at once to protect our citizens. The Federal Government faces the tremendous task of training the largest military and naval establishment in our Nation's history. After the hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of our men are trained and equipped, they must be transported, far and wide, over the seven seas to overcome the enemy outside continental United States. Every available man in the combat forces will be needed in this far-flung offensive. This means that if any number of soldiers, trained for military operations, would be retained within the United States for guard duty, or for any other routine defense purpose, that would entail a loss to our Country's striking power.

The Federal Government, of course, is the one which assumes the responsibility for the conduct of war. But the State Government has its obligation, also, to its citizens. That obligation includes protection to our people. It was for this reason that more than a year ago I asked the Maryland General Assembly to authorize the creation of the State Guard, the primary purpose of which was to have a mobile protective force ready to move in any direction to maintain the safety and security of our people and their property. It is with pleasure that I can report to our people that the State Guard is completely drilling.

The State Guard numbers approximately 2,700 officers and men. Supplementing it is a Special Military Police Force, the members of which are on continuous duty and assigned exclusively to the guarding of our State's bridges, important water supplies, and other vital points, described by the War Department as having important bearing on the war effort. The number of this force is approximately 300.

To the credit of the members of our present Guard, it can be said that they have responded to every requirement since our Nation entered the war, despite unexpected difficulties under which they have at times been required to perform their duties. The public will understand that up until now the State's defensive efforts have consisted mainly in protecting those installations and locations which the War Department consider as vitally important.

Now, however, a greater possible danger must be faced by our people. Situated as we are and exposed as our State is, we must be prepared for the worst. Since the outbreak of hostilities at Pearl Harbor, I have been in touch, at regular intervals, with United States officials who have imparted information revealing the danger that besets us. I owe it to the people of the State to report that we are in jeopardy, and that we must be prepared for trouble both from without and from within our State.

Only today, for instance, have I been advised by the Commanding General of the First Army, in New York, that the presence and increasing activity of enemy submarines off the Maryland Coast require additional drastic measures.

With the prospect that the regular Army units will be engaged in more important operations elsewhere, and with our State Guard and Military Police assigned to particular functions, it is felt absolutely necessary to have an additional protective force-: as a home guard-for the protection of our various communities. Competent military officers, one of whom, our capable and experienced Major General Milton A. Reckord, will speak to you in a few minutes, advise that there is need of this further, wide-spread, alert defense organization to cope with and to be available instantly for any sudden attack by parachute troops, by forces landed from the sea by enemy sympathizers within our State.

I propose to meet this need by the organization in every part of the State of a Reserve Militia. The completed plan has just been approved by General Reckord, as Commander of the Third Army Corps. It offers the opportunity for every able-bodied man to assist in protecting his home and his community against enemy activities. The militia will be organized under our State Law, and the men who enlist at this time of our grave emergency will be known as the "Maryland Minute Men."

The mission of the Maryland Minute Men is to furnish immediately, local protection against parachute troops, saboteurs, or organized raiding parties. It is planned that the units be confined to their own communities so that there will be assurance at all times that every residential section of Maryland will have protection.

No prescribed complete uniform will be required. Distinctive arm bands and caps or other items may be furnished by the State, the County, or by the men themselves. For the present the hard-pressed Ordinance Department of the United States Army cannot be expected to furnish sufficient arms, ammunition, or equipment. Hence, the volunteers, for the most part, will be expected to furnish their own weapons. For this reason, gunners (of whom there are 60, 000 licensed in Maryland), members of Rod and Gun Clubs, of Trap Shooting and similar organizations, will be expected to constitute a part of this new military organization.

Officers will be drawn from the immediate area in which they are to serve. As Army officers have pointed out to me, the familiarity of the members with their particular locality, with the terrain and road not in the respective communities, will be of great value in resisting any hostile efforts against residential areas and important public necessities.

No intensive training program will be adopted. While sufficient preparatory work must be undertaken by the Minute Men, care will be taken to avoid unnecessary demands upon their time. No guard duty is to be included as a regular part of the program for the new force.

Retired officers of the regular Army, Marine Corps or State Guard will be sought to supervise the training. The program will embrace basic field training and basic small arms instruction. The field training will include the study of terrain from the military viewpoint, establishment and maintenance of communications, practice assemblies in daylight and in dark, and other courses. Arms instructions will cover teaching how to load and unload weapons, examination of weapons as to working order; effective firing positions, special instructions in sighting and aiming, rapid firing technique, and other duties.

Military officials, in emphasizing the value of such an organization point out that the familiarity which the members will enjoy with the faces, customs and habits of their neighbors in the community, makes them most valuable in combating sabotage efforts. They will detect, even more quickly than a secret service man from the outside, any strange faces in the community, or any unusual activities on the part of local inhabitants.

The Maryland Minute Men, armed with weapons with which they are thoroughly familiar from long use, operating in a community in which they are accustomed to every road and trail and stream, and aroused to fighting pitch by the knowledge that they are serving to protect their own homes, their family and all that they hold dear in life, will prove a staunch defense against any enemy activity.

Through conferences among the Military, Naval, State Guard and Minute Men officials, operation plans for each area will be carefully prepared, I am assured by the Third Corps Headquarters. Surveys will be made to determine the importance of facilities and installations which might be subjected to sabotage and raids; the availability of Military and Naval police and State Guard forces; and the quality and type of communications which are available for notification for additional protective forces when necessary.

Based on these surveys, definite missions will be assigned each of the organizations concerned; and the proper liaison will be arranged. All available firearms will be reported and those individuals to be armed with rifles will be assigned to tasks where the long-range and accurate fire of rifles will be necessarily employed. Those to be armed with shot guns will be assigned tasks where the short range, spreading fire of shot guns will be most effective.

As I attempted to outline before, no unnecessary discipline and training will be required. However, as this is serious business there will be exacted from all members obedience to orders, sobriety, and self-sacrifice. Military advisors suggest that time need not be spent on close-order or other military drill. It is not intended that this be a parade organization. But officers and men must be willing to cooperate and to devote time and work to meet any local situation.

I should also point out another cardinal rule of the new organization. We all know that an enemy raiding party does not stop to give considerations to a victim's social background, or to his political affiliation, or to class distinction. Therefore, I give assurance that such considerations will completely absent from the organization, training and discipline of the Maryland Minute Men from top to bottom.

I now issue a call for volunteers to serve as Maryland Minute Men. Arrangements have been made to accept enlistments at once. State headquarters for the new organization will be the Office of the Adjutant General of Maryland, Fifth Regiment Armory, Baltimore.

However, persons can make known their readiness to serve at any of the State Armories, one of which is located in all the counties of Maryland except five. In these five counties; where no armories exists, namely, Garrett, Howard, St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles Counties, other headquarters will be established, the location of which will be made known through the local press.

Already arrangements are made to receive group enlistments from the membership rolls of Rifle Clubs, Trap Shooting Associations, Skeet Clubs and sportsmen's groups of every type. The number of units to be formed in different sections of the State will depend upon the size and population of the area and also upon the important public facilities and military objectives, which are designated by the War Department in different sections of our State.

I wish to repeat that in every move, with respect to this organization, the advice and direction of Army officials will be sought, as has been the practice in connection with the organization and functioning of the Maryland State Guard.

And so, my fellow-Marylanders, I ask your support and assistance in this new undertaking which will be maintained at a minimum of expense. It will however, represent a maximum of protection by civilian soldiers, whose first duty it will be to stand in defense of their home, in protection of plants and facilities which are essential to life.

To these men, many of whom will be veterans of the last war, who incidentally may have "chafed at the bit" when they have observed their sons and younger men marching away recently to the Country's defense, let me say that here is an opportunity that will make them truly an important part of the public defense forces. Here is a function of military organizations to which they can address themselves with enthusiasm, because it will be of utmost importance and will thereby release a number of regular Army forces for combat service abroad.

Inconvenient, yes; overtime work, yes. But let us remember that hardships and privations are now being suffered for us by General MacArthur and his valiant men in Bataan. Those who do not leave United States as a part of the armed forces to avenge the wrong done to Americans and to the United States flag abroad, will be untrue to these American boys if we do not protect their homes and their communities while they are away fighting for us. Let us preserve the communities and their firesides, so that there will be a familiar place to which they will be welcomed on their return after victory has, been won.

The flower of America's young manhood now being sent to distant parts of the world will face the period of hardship and discouragement. But like the Crusaders of old, they are privileged to fare forth to free a land of civilization from the Barbarians.

America's Crusade today is to wipe the scourge of slavery from a world of Hitler and the Japanese war lords, and to establish once and for all time the freedom of man and his dignity as an individual, and this should awaken a responsive chord in every heart.

No, we didn't want this war. We went to all lengths to avoid it. And in so doing we laid ourselves open to just the very reverses that lack of preparedness has occasioned. Now that we are in this war, however, now that we know how necessary it is to fight as we have never fought before, not only to defend our Democracy, our own freedom, but to bring back freedom to all the enslaved people of the earth, we know America shall not fail. Maryland today, as in every other crisis in our Nation's history, pledges itself to stop short of nothing to preserve American ideals and American privileges for generations to come.

 
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