Memorial Day gatherings offer memories of war, hopes for peace 'With freedom comes a price'

May 31, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

Their legs aren't as sturdy as when they churned across the bloody sand of Omaha Beach on D-Day, with their buddies dying around them under withering German fire, but their fierce patriotism remains undiminished.

"I just hope it wasn't all in vain," said former Sgt. Maj. Charles A. Lusby Sr., 76, of Arbutus, who charged ashore at 6:20 a.m. June 6, 1944, in the first assault wave as a member of the 111th Artillery, attached to the 29th Division's 116th Combat Team.

Mr. Lusby, former national commander of the 29th Division Association, was among a group of D-Day veterans who were honored by more than 500 people at the annual Memorial Day observance at the Circle of Immortals at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

He spoke as it was announced that New York City's 73-year-old Memorial Day parade had been canceled for "lack of interest" a week before the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the largest invasion in military history.

Many expressed astonishment at the report, which led several speakers to thank Marylanders for continuing to remember and honor the state's and country's war dead.

The 29th Division, the Blue-Gray Division recruited from Maryland and Virginia, traces its ancestry to George Washington's Continental Army. Among the 29th's proudest, yet saddest, achievements is that it was the only National Guard division in the initial assault wave on Normandy.

Although yesterday's ceremony focused on World War II, wreaths were placed to honor Maryland dead from other wars, including Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, along with 11 men killed in terrorist attacks in such places as Lebanon and in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland.

Deborah Carroll of St. Mary's County unveiled a memorial plaque in the Circle of Immortals to honor her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald J. "Gerry" Carroll, a highly decorated Navy flier who had been the 1992 keynote speaker at Dulaney Valley.

The retired officer said in that speech: "With freedom comes a price, and that price is it must be defended. In wars young men die. That's Rule One. Rule Two is no one changes Rule One."

Mr. Carroll, who flew combat missions in Vietnam, Lebanon and Grenada, died in October at age 46 after launching a successful second career as a writer with encouragement from his best friend, novelist Tom Clancy.

Vietnam memorial

In another observance yesterday, about 200 people honored the 1,046 men whose names are inscribed in the granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial in South Baltimore's Middle Branch Park.

Vietnam and World War II were different kinds of wars, and the returning veterans got different kinds of receptions when they returned home.

That led the Rev. Jackson H. Day, chaplain for the Baltimore Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, to call for a spirit of healing and peace in the hearts of those combat veterans for whom the war has never ended.

"Yes, those of us who were in combat can remember the fear, the hatred, the rage we felt in the thick of things when the enemy was upon us," Mr. Day said. "But not one of us was sent to Vietnam for the purpose of creating a world of fear, hatred and rage. It sounds stupid, but we were fighting for peace, and only when peace is achieved will our objective be achieved."

The 29th Division will soon have a chance to add new luster to its record, as the only National Guard unit invited to send volunteers a peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert early next year, Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Johnson, assistant division commander, told the audience.

In Normandy in 1944, the 29th took heavy casualties: 2,000 killed and 6,000 wounded between D-Day and the capture of the French town of St. Lo on July 18. The 29th suffered a total of 20,000 casualties in four campaigns across Europe until the war's end in 1945.

Lowry Brooks, 73, of Dundalk was a member of the 29th's 115th Infantry. Because its sister unit, the 116th, was cut up so badly in the initial landing, "we were ordered in to relieve them and assume the assault mission," Mr. Brooks recalled.

Mr. Brooks' 16-man unit made its rendezvous with the battalion commander, but, because he was the operations sergeant, the commanding officer "sent me back to get the company commanders for a change-of-mission briefing."

"I went over that beach twice," Mr. Brooks said. He was wounded twice, on Omaha Beach and again during the battle for St. Lo.

"It was a mix-up, but it came out all right," said Mr. Lusby as Mr. Brooks told of the unexpectedly fierce German resistance. The 29th was forced into 43 straight days of combat.

Yesterday was a special Memorial Day, a week before the anniversary of D-Day, a day when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower told his troops, "You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade" to end the Nazi tyranny in Europe.

Recalling the general's words, the veterans said that such pronouncements are fine but that theirs was a more fundamental view.

"At that time you didn't know if you'd survive another minute or hour, but now it's 50 years later. As the years go on it means more and more," Mr. Brooks said.

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