The sun beat down on the stillness of the cemetery. Aged men and young men in crisp uniforms stood at attention. Hands were placed on hearts, or held stiffly in salute. There were flags and flowers and the ladies' auxiliary, all clustered in red and white under the shade of a green tent -- and in one corner stood a middle-aged man with a cane, videotaping it all.
Jon Davis was recording the scene so that sometime between June 6 and June 9, Sgt. Carmello "Carl" Genco could come home from duty in Saudi Arabia and see it all: nine six-hour videotapes, including Jon Davis' first Memorial Day service in 23 years.
"I'm a Vietnam veteran," said Mr. Davis, who is married to Sergeant Genco's mother, Mary. The cane and the blue knee braces, Mr. Davis explained, bolster a leg torn apart in 1968. "Cannon fire from a Chinese tank," he said. "Twenty-three years ago yesterday." He explained why, after 23 years, he and Mary drove from Towson to this Memorial Day service at Parkwood Cemetery, sponsored by the American Legion, Hamilton Post No. 20.
"From my perspective, I've had 17 operations. I was in the hospital for two years straight in the beginning. I just had my last operation last year," said Mr. Davis. "I was never publicly thanked. There were no bands, there were no commemorative buttons, there were no parades for me. . . .
"In helping Carl come home, it's everything I didn't have. . . . It's been a catharsis for me."
A sweet, low voice singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" stilled the crowd. The Pledge of Allegiance followed. The featured speaker, a lieutenant colonel from the Maryland National Guard, talked about Operation Desert Storm: "One hundred decisive hours. . . . People were wounded and killed, but certainly not in vain. . . . The cause was just."
The officer recited the list of dead to be remembered this day: "125 dead in Desert Storm. . . . 23 in Panama. . . . 18 in Granada."
Memorial Day is supposed to be a tribute to all American soldiers. But this was the first time Mr. Davis felt included.
Said Mary Davis: "This is Jon's homecoming also."
About three months ago, just after the end of the air war against Iraq, Mr. Davis started pulling out photo albums from his war years. He took out his medals, a Purple Heart and an Air Medal, and hung them on the wall. He wrote away for an extra set that he wears now pinned on his navy blue Vietnam Veterans of America cap.
"We go out and tape everything so Carl can see how supportive everyone was," said Mrs. Davis. "One day we went into the neighborhoods and just filmed the flags. What we wanted to show him was we have come a long way as Americans."
Mr. Davis interjected, "He heard stories from me about Vietnam. We tried to impress on him this would not be another Vietnam. He wrote letters home, wondering if there would be protesters when he came home."
As the memorial continued, there were more songs, prayers and speeches. A police helicopter whirred into the sky and swept across the cemetery, and a scatter of dark objects were released, fluttering down across the blueness. Children ran off to retrieve them: red crepe-paper poppies.
Mr. Davis videotaped the Parkville Senior High Band playing "America the Beautiful." An aged flag was laid to rest with pomp and ceremony and set on fire to burn in a metal barrel. The chaplain said a final round of thank-yous.
Among the stragglers were Sgt. James Moore and his wife, Darlene. Like Mr. Davis, Sergeant Moore is a Vietnam veteran. He recalled his homecoming from the gulf, which began with a stop in Westover, Mass. The soldiers were greeted by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and crowds.
"It blew us away," Sergeant Moore recalled. "A lot of the soldiers were crying." It was so different from Vietnam, he added.
Darlene Moore agreed: "From one end of the scale to the other."