A changing of the guard has come at the top of the Maryland and District national guards.

Maj. Gen. James Fretterd, who had served as adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard for 17 years, has been ousted as commander by the state's new governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

In the District, Maj. Gen. Warren Freeman, who has commanded the District of Columbia National Guard since 1995, retired from the Guard and has taken a position as commandant of the military program at Forestville Military Academy, a Prince George's County high school that is being transformed into one of the nation's few coeducational public military academies.

"Sometimes you need to move on and let new ideas and people step to the plate," said Freeman, 56.

Fretterd's departure was not voluntary.

After Ehrlich's election in November, Fretterd began hearing through the grapevine that the governor-elect wanted him out. "It was a shock to me," said Fretterd, 72. "It's got me baffled. To take a commander out in the middle of a war, with Iraq looming on the horizon, I couldn't believe it."

A news release from Ehrlich's office announcing Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill's nomination as the new adjutant general of Maryland, with responsibilities including the National Guard, included no mention of Fretterd. Ehrlich's press office did not respond to requests for comment.

The adjutant general serves at the governor's prerogative, and several Maryland Democratic officials said it was not surprising that Ehrlich, the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades, would clean house.

It probably did not help that Fretterd was seen as having ties with former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Ehrlich's opponent in the November election.

Ehrlich's decision ends a National Guard career stretching back more than a half-century. Fretterd joined the Maryland Army National Guard's Company H, 2nd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment in February 1951, thinking the unit was going to get called up for the Korean War. It was not, but Fretterd stayed with the Guard, eventually becoming an officer and rising through the ranks.

He was appointed adjutant general of Maryland in February 1987 by Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D).

Fretterd is credited with boosting military construction in the state, establishing close relations between Maryland and the Baltic countries through military exercises, establishing programs for at-risk youth, and championing recruitment programs that paid college tuition in exchange for service with the Maryland Guard.

Fretterd's tenure also saw the first African American and female officers to reach the rank of general in the history of the Maryland Guard.

Freeman, a graduate of Eastern High School in the District, was attending Howard University when he enlisted in the D.C. National Guard in 1966, looking for a way to stay in school and not be drafted for the Vietnam War.

Freeman was working as an installer for C & P Telephone in April 1968 when he got word from his office to report for duty with the National Guard. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated that day, and rioters had taken to the streets of Washington. Freeman joined National Guard units trying to restore order in the city.

He stayed in the guard, rising through command, and was appointed commanding general of the D.C. National Guard by President Bill Clinton in December 1995.

A few weeks after he took office, Washington was hit with a winter storm in January 1996 that left some areas under two feet of snow. Freeman ordered 14 all-terrain Humvee military vehicles along with drivers to help police officers move through unplowed city streets.

The years that followed were eventful for the D.C. Guard, culminating Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck and D.C. Air National Guard F-16s took to the air to patrol the skies over Washington, while D.C. Army National Guard troops set up in the streets of the District to provide security.

No one has yet been appointed to replace Freeman as head of the D.C. National Guard, but Brig. Gen. David Wherley, commander of the 113th Wing, is serving as acting commander of the D.C. Guard.

Tuxill, Fretterd's replacement, has served as assistant adjutant general for air for the Maryland Air National Guard since 1993, commanding nearly 2,000 members and their aircraft, including A-10 jet fighters and C-130J cargo aircraft.

The announcement from Ehrlich's office praised Tuxill for his "impeccable record of achievement" during 34 years of military service. "His state level experience with the Maryland Air National Guard, combined with his national level experience in shaping National Guard policy, will prove invaluable as we strengthen our efforts to secure the homeland during these unprecedented times," Ehrlich said in the release.

The Ties That Bind

In the closing days of World War II, Army Capt. Jack Singlaub led a rescue team from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services that parachuted onto China's Hainan Island and freed Allied prisoners being held at a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

His interpreter on the OSS mission was Peter Fong, a young Chinese Nationalist soldier who volunteered for the job. Singlaub and Fong, both now 81, were reunited for the first time in years recently when Fong visited Singlaub at the retired general's home in Arlington.

The mission to Hainan -- launched out of concern the Japanese would execute the prisoners -- succeeded in rescuing more than 400 Australian and Dutch soldiers. After the war, Fong lived with his family in Shanghai but eventually was placed in a labor camp during China's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Singlaub served combat tours in Korea and Vietnam and rose to high rank. In 1977, Maj. Gen. Singlaub was ousted as chief of staff for U.S. military command in South Korea by President Jimmy Carter for suggesting that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the peninsula might encourage North Korea to invade the south.

The controversy ended Singlaub's military career, but it was a fortuitous development for Fong. Still in a labor camp, Fong saw news articles reporting on Singlaub's confrontation with Carter.

"He decided that had to be me, so he made an effort to get word out about where he was," Singlaub said. "It's really an incredible story."

Fong wrote a message on a piece of paper asking someone to contact Singlaub. The next time his son, Dick Kwong, visited Fong, the father surreptitiously gave him the paper. His son in turn passed it on to a female friend in Shanghai who was planning to visit New York, and she agreed to carry the slip of paper inside her shoe. The family she visited in New York contacted Singlaub.

Singlaub succeeded in getting Fong's son a visa to the United States, and together they worked to get Fong released.

The big break came when Singlaub visited Australia for a speaking engagement. One of the Australian prisoners freed by the OSS team in 1945 read about Singlaub's visit, contacted the retired general and learned of Fong's fate. Subsequently, the Australian government made inquiries on Fong's behalf, eventually gaining his freedom in the early 1980s. Fong moved to the United States.

On Jan. 18, Fong and his son came from their home in New Jersey for their first visit with Singlaub in more than a decade.

Fong said he remains grateful to Singlaub. "He's a very brave soldier," Fong said.

Military Matters appears in the Extra twice each month. Steve Vogel can be reached at vogels@washpost.com.

Looking over a scrapbook of photographs, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, left, and Peter Fong -- comrades in arms then and now -- reminisce about their World War II exploits.