Gen. James Fretterd laid to rest
DENTON — Retired Lt. Gen. James F. Fretterd, former adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, was laid to rest Friday, Dec. 2.
Fretterd passed away Saturday, Nov. 26, at his home in Federalsburg. He was 86.
A service was held at the old Denton armory, renamed the Gen. James F. Fretterd Community Center after it was restored in 2008, followed by interment with military honors at the Bloomery United Methodist Church Cemetery and a reception at Fretterd’s home.
The gymnasium in the community center — the same room that was the drill hall where Fretterd first reported as a private
embarking on what would be a 52-year career with the National Guard — was packed with friends, family and fellow members of the Guard.
Fretterd was remembered as a dedicated leader and visionary who helped shape the Guard into what it is today, and a family man who adored his wife, Ellen; daughters, Linda and Laura; and grandchildren.
“He loved two things in life — the Guard and his family,” said retired Maj. Gen. James Adkins, also a former adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard. “I don’t think he felt there was any separation between the two.”
The service opened with music provided by a brass quintet from the 229th Army Band of the Maryland National Guard.
“We are here to grieve his passing but also to celebrate his life,” said Maryland National Guard Chaplain Col. Sean Lee, who officiated.
Laura Patrick, Fretterd’s daughter, sang “Amazing Grace,” with a couple added verses about her father’s love for her mother and his career with the National Guard, and a final verse thanking everyone for their support. Four speakers delivered eulogies. First to speak was retired Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, former chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“Jim was a man ahead of his time, a visionary, and he had the courage to go after those visions and make them a reality,” Blum said.
When it came to technology, though, Fretterd tended to prefer simpler things.
“His idea of high tech was a yellow legal pad,” Blum said.
The constant was that Fretterd cared, he said.
“He touched so many people in such a positive manner in the Guard,” Blum said. “He will be very, very missed.”
Blum read a brief statement from Fretterd’s brother, Charles, who was unable to make the trip from his home in Mississippi. In the statement, Charles Fretterd asked all military present to stand and salute his brother.
Next to speak was Adkins, who remembered having to live on “Fretterd time” whenever he traveled with Fretterd.
“He liked to get places early to tackle the next challenge,” Adkins said. “If you had a meeting with him scheduled, be ready for him to show up an hour or two early.”
Being so close to Christmas, Adkins said, he thought of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which the main character gets a look at what the world would have been like for the people he loved if he had never been born.
“In the Guard, so many of our careers would have turned out differently if he hadn’t been around,” Adkins said. “His true legacy is the airmen and soldiers he served with.”
Fretterd’s tour of duty has come to end, Adkins said. “His was truly a wonderful life,” he said. Maj. Gen. Francis Vavala, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, said it was difficult to capture the full essence of a leader like Fretterd, who was bigger than life.
“He had a profound effect on all of us,” Vavala said. “His very being was interwoven with the Free State and the National Guard.”
Vavala said when he was appointed adjutant general in Delaware, Fretterd, who was then adjutant general in Mar yland, and Ellen Fretterd went out of their way to welcome Vavala and his wife into the ranks.
The two leaders had a mutual admiration, but Vavala said he also enjoyed riling up Fretterd.
“I told him I was working on a war plan for my governor to annex the Eastern Shore,” he said with a laugh.
Fretterd was one of the architects of the modern National Guard, Vavala said.
“He truly made a difference,” he said. “The men and women serving today are his credentials.”
Vavala closed his remarks by saying Fretterd had done well as a soldier, leader and patriot, but the time had come for him to stand down.
“It’s time to join Ellen in eternal happiness in that great armory in the sky,” Vavala said.
The final speaker was Linda Earls, Fretterd’s daughter.
Earls said when she was young, she thought her dad must have been a rock star.
“Wherever we went, people wanted to meet him, take their picture with him and talk to him,” Earls said.
To her, though, he was Dad, the man who came home every day, put on threadbare fatigues and old leather shoes, and ate an onion sandwich on burnt rye toast — he liked everything burnt — while watching “The Carol Burnett Show” or “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
“That was the dad I knew,” Earls said. “Why did people make such a fuss over him?”
Earls said her parents had a love to end all love stories. They met when her mother attended a baseball game in which her dad was playing.
“You seldom saw one without the other,” Earls said.
Ellen Fretterd passed away in December 2010. Earls said her dad tried to put on a brave front for his family, but he missed his soulmate.
“He never got a good night of sleep again,” Earls said.
Earls said it was fitting her dad’s last three words were “Ellen, Ellen, Ellen.”
“My sister and I can take comfort in the fact they’ve been reunited,” Earls said. “Dad’s probably trying to rearrange things, and Mom is saying, ‘No, Jim, I was here first.’”
Fretterd rarely drank and never smoked, but he loved to cuss like a sailor, Earls said.
He hated phones in general and begrudgingly let his daughters buy him a cellphone, she said, but he never got the hang of it.
“Dad butt-dialed everyone in his contacts list,” Earls laughed. “Halfway through every conversation, he would somehow mute the phone.”
Earls said while leading the Maryland National Guard, her dad swam against the current in many ways. She said he once was criticized by retired Gen. Colin Powell for implementing a program to help at-risk youth finish their education.
“Powell said the military’s mission is to win wars, but Dad said if we don’t win the war in our cities, we won’t win them anywhere else,” Earls said.
Earls said her dad treated everyone with respect, and his love for his family was unwavering.
She said the family appreciated the outpouring of love and support since her dad’s passing, and she read a message she received on Facebook from a nurse who had cared for Fretterd when he was in a rehabilitation facility for a few weeks earlier this year. The nurse said she had learned a lot from Fretterd just in the short time she got to know him.
“I can take comfort in all the lives he touched,” Earls said. “I think I was right from the start — my father was a rock star. I’ll always love you, Daddy.”
GEN. JAMES F. FRETTERD
A funeral service for retired Lt. Gen. James Fretterd was held Friday, Dec. 2, in Denton, in the building named for him.