Battle to save memorial Veterans: A former Marine sergeant is trying to ensure a tribute doesn't crumble with the demolition of the football stadium that houses it.

June 05, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

Daniel Burkhardt came home from his three-year tour in the South Pacific during World War II. And he hasn't let go of the comrades who didn't.

In 1949, as state adjutant for the American Legion, he was among the platoon of Baltimore civic leaders who fought to name the playing field being built on 33rd Street Memorial Stadium.

The former Marine Corps technical sergeant also led the campaign to put a memorial urn -- containing soil from the roughly 100 cemeteries where American fighters were buried around the world -- in a niche in the stadium's rotunda wall. And he suggested the quotation on the stadium's towering south wall: "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds."

Now, the 82-year-old veteran from Severna Park and others are trying to make sure bulldozers don't diminish the memory of the lives that were lost either.

With the stadium slated for at least partial demolition early next year, Burkhardt and a coalition including veterans, city officials, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Ravens football team, are trying to put the urn and lettering in a plaza in the northwest corner of the new Ravens stadium, south of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is developing the Memorial Plaza idea. He said the new field would be ideal for the memorial.

David Hopcraft, director of community relations for the Ravens, agreed. He said the football club is proud to associate itself with the memorial because the tradition of honoring veterans is "weaved into this community's sports tradition."

Said Hoffman: "We haven't forgotten those ahead of us who gave their lives. It shows that we're not all into money, and sports is better than just an event on the field."

The plaza, which is now in its planning stages, would be landscaped and permanently lighted. The roughly 14-by-8-inch bronze urn -- which holds more than 2 liters of mixed soil and is now in a safe at the War Memorial building -- would be encased in shatterproof glass surrounded by American and other memorial flags. The quotation from the old stadium also would be in the plaza, possibly on a model of Memorial Stadium near the urn.

"These things should be where people are," said Hopcraft. "They shouldn't be tucked away in a place where the average Joe and Jane doesn't get to see it."

On Monday, the City Council adopted a resolution at the request of the Maryland Veterans Commission, asking the Department of Public Works to remove and store the letters affixed to the front of Memorial Stadium.

Col. Erwin Burtnick, fiscal affairs adviser to City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, said preserving the lettering on Memorial Stadium was important, because the stadium was Baltimore's only memorial honoring primarily World War II veterans.

"Not too many younger people today have been, fortunately, touched by war," he said. "They certainly should remember the sacrifice people made in past generations to preserve peace."

Melanie Wilson, deputy director of city planning, said the city would like to begin demolishing the 48-year-old, 65,000-seat stadium -- at an estimated cost between $10 million and $18 million -- early next year.

Planning director Charles Graves said the city would be flexible in how it would reuse the site. On June 10, the Memorial Stadium Task Force will meet at the stadium, he said, and veterans are invited to discuss their concerns.

Norman Geisel, 67, state adjutant for the Baltimore Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he would like the city to keep the stadium and use it for civic events and junior college and high school athletics.

"The memorial doesn't mean so much to a lot of people," he said. In the 1940s and 1950s, he said, "it was a big deal to shake the hands of veterans. But today, that's in the past. We work for what we have and what we get."

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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