The sense of loss was as poignant as ever on this Memorial Day, but, just three months after Operation Desert Storm, the pain seemed particularly fresh.
It wasn't hard to see and feel the pain in the way Leona and Paul Randazzo kept blinking back tears, and in the way Sandra and Charles Bowman Sr. held each other's hands for comfort and support.
The Randazzos, the Bowmans and five other Maryland families lost relatives in Operation Desert Storm. Those families and a crowd of about 300 gathered yesterday at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens for a Memorial Day observance that paid special honor to the seven Marylanders killed in the Persian Gulf fighting.
Local ceremonies through the weekend recalled the men and women who died while serving the U.S. in all its wars.
At the 90-minute Dulaney Valley observance, the 229th Army Band performed patriotic music. A Navy chaplain recited prayers. A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."
Del. Gerry L. Brewster, D-Balto. Co., read a House of Delegates resolution praising the seven Maryland men for their "bravery, patriotism and devotion to duty during the liberation of Kuwait. They will never be forgotten by a grateful nation and state."
The ceremony took place in the Circle of the Immortals, an area of the cemetery dedicated in 1967 and reserved for Marylanders killed in war. Twenty-six men who died during the Vietnam War are buried in the circle.
Relatives of the seven Persian Gulf soldiers sat in the front rows of two sections of seats, beneath a pair of tents that provided some shade on a hot and humid day. They stood at attention, along with the rest of the crowd, as Brewster and Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, laid a wreath at a new memorial honoring "The Children of Liberty, the Liberators of Kuwait" -- American soldiers killed during Operation Desert Storm.
Then the family members were called forward and presented with plaques bearing the names of their fallen loved ones:
Navy Lt. James H. Love of Arnold. Army Staff Sgt. Garland V. Hailey of Baltimore. Air Force Capt. Thomas C. Bland Jr. of Gaithersburg (posthumously promoted from first lieutenant). Army Staff Sgt. Ronald M. Randazzo of Glen Burnie. Army Reserve Pvt. Timothy A. Shaw of Upper Marlboro. Marine Lance Cpl. James M. Lang of Prince George's County. Army Spec. Charles L. Bowman Jr. of Manchester.
Toward the end of the observance, Paul Randazzo walked to the podium and read a letter his family received about 10 days ago from Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Thompson, who served with Ron Randazzo.
Paul Randazzo explained that Thompson is still recovering from wounds he suffered in the Feb. 20 attack that killed Ron Randazzo, who was leading a reconnaissance mission in Iraq at the time.
Thompson's letter started on an apologetic note. He said he was sorry if the sudden appearance of his letter caused the Randazzo family any further anguish.
He wrote that he was not at liberty to describe the fatal mission, but he called it one of "great importance," Paul Randazzo said, reading from the letter. He read on, quoting Thompson:
"I want you to know there was no suffering. . . . Ron is a hero. He gave his life in defense of all of us. . . . It was great to know Ron. He did his duty to the utmost of his ability."
During the eighth annual Memorial Day observance at the Maryland State Veterans Cemetery in Garrison Forest, about 200 people watched as members of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association of Maryland dedicated a plaque honoring "all veterans, living and dead," who served in the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard during the past 50 years. The Desert Storm dead also were mentioned at that ceremony.
In Canton yesterday, the Chorus of the Chesapeake sang "Nearer My God to Thee" as Clifford Maxwell, 95, a World War I veteran, placed a red, white and blue floral wreath at the Korean War Memorial in the 2900 block of Boston St. He walked with the help of a cane.
A second wreath was placed at the stone memorial by veterans of the 11th Engineer Battalion, Marine Corps Reserve.
About 600 veterans of the Navy Armed Guard of World Wars I and II were in Baltimore during the weekend to hold a reunion with Merchant Marine veterans.
"We were Navy gunners aboard merchant ships," said Alex Lombardi of Upper Montclair, N.J., chairman of the 10th national reunion.
About 100 of the former sailors and their families gathered on Sunday for a memorial service to honor shipmates lost during World War II.
"For the most part, these were men 17 to 19 years old," Lombardi said. "At least we got a chance to come home and marry our sweethearts and get on with our lives. These youngsters never got a chance."