World War II veterans honored Memorial dedication notes sacrifice of 6,454 Marylanders

July 23, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

In a state where history is treasured and richly commemorated, there have long been memorials to Maryland's veterans of the Civil War, World War I and the Korean and Vietnam wars. But today -- when the 21-gun salute sounds and the fighter planes fly overhead in missing-man formation -- will mark the first time the state has erected a memorial exclusively for its World War II dead.

At a scenic overlook of the state capital at the Naval Academy bridge, a spectacular memorial to the 6,454 Marylanders who died in the world's biggest military effort will be dedicated. Dozens of World War II veterans from around the state, many of them highly decorated and in their 80s and 90s, are expected to attend.

"In this place, the heroes will gather," said former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

The names etched in the gray granite of the memorial are of men who have been gone for decades, those who stormed Normandy, battled at Midway and raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

Some 288,000 Marylanders served at home and abroad during the war, and Maryland suffered some of the biggest losses on the bloody beaches of Normandy in summer 1944.

Maryland's Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was built primarily, but not only, for veterans of World War II.

"If any state needed a memorial to World War II, it's ours," said Schaefer. The Maryland-Virginia National Guard's 29th Division "was the first to storm the beach," the former governor said. "We suffered extremely heavy losses. Probably about 60 [percent] to 70 percent of those men were lost."

Schaefer remembers visiting Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, "and as I looked at that place, I said to myself, 'It's a miracle anyone survived here,' " he said.

Today's dedication of Maryland's World War II memorial culminates six years of planning. The idea began when Schaefer was in office. A World War II veteran himself, the governor appointed a 25-member commission to oversee building of a memorial.

When ground was broken last year, the commission's chairman, retired Brig. Gen. John F. Burk, 79, a former infantryman, said, simply: "Visit it, honor it, celebrate it."

Melanie Panos Ortel, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the planning process was like a living history lesson.

"I'd be sitting around the table, looking at these men who had done so much and seen so much," she said.

The project blossomed into a near $3 million venture, funded through state and private funds. After a national competition, the design of New York architect Secundino Fernandez was picked.

The result is a four-sided, open-air amphitheater on what is called the Ritchie Overlook. The amphitheater is encircled by 48 granite pillars, which bear the names of Maryland's World War II dead and represent the 48 states then in the country. Twenty stainless-steel plaques describe wartime milestones and important battles.

Despite overwhelming support, there has been some minor criticism from locals who worried the memorial, with its tall pillars and flagpoles, would block the overlook's view of the Severn River and the Naval Academy.

At this morning's ceremony, Bob Dole, a former senator and presidential candidate and a World War II veteran, will speak.

Said Schaefer: "For these men, it will bring a lot of memories -- and some tears, too, I expect."

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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