Preserving the meaning of Memorial Day

May 29, 2000|By Fred B. Shoken

WHEN DID Memorial Day become a holiday of backyard barbecues and outings to the beach?

Once, it was day reserved to commemorate our citizen soldiers who died on battlefields. Families of deceased soldiers visited cemeteries to decorate graves with flowers. On Memorial Day, we are supposed to remember that our nation's freedom comes at a high cost -- human life.

Living in Bolton Hill, I have made it a tradition to visit local war memorials on Memorial Day. Three are within walking distance of my home.

Along Mount Royal Avenue are the "Watson" Monument (above North Avenue) commemorating Marylanders who fought in the Mexican-American War, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument (near Mosher Street) and the Maryland Line Monument (opposite the Lyric Theatre) honoring Revolutionary War soldiers.

When I lived in Charles Village, I walked to the Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Charles and 29th streets. With their Latin inscriptions, classical motifs and bronze statuary, these monuments are products of another era evoking the symbols of our past.

Baltimore's Battle Monument honors those who fought here during the War of 1812. It is our municipal symbol, revered and remembered, yet downtown office workers pass by without noticing the names of fallen heroes. At the far end of the square, the Negro Soldiers Monument commemorates the often forgotten contributions of men who battled both for and against our segregated military through too many wars.

The War Memorial at Fayette and Gay streets was built to honor those who fought in World War I. Carved within the walls of its great auditorium are the names of Marylanders who died in battle. Arranged by county, the names from Baltimore City far outnumber other jurisdictions.

The Spanish-American War Monument stands isolated near the junction of Pulaski Highway and Fayette Street. The preserved bronze "hiker" in full uniform stands by the side of the road, unnoticed by commuters speeding by.

The more recent Korean War Monument with its carved stone map and informative history competes for attention along Canton's gentrified waterfront. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, near Harbor Hospital, remains a place of pilgrimage. Fallen soldiers are still vividly remembered by friends and family who visit.

This Memorial Day, between cook outs and family gatherings, visit a war memorial to truly experience this holiday.

I suggest you stop by a familiar place on East 33rd Street --Memorial Stadium -- to read inspiring words molded of stainless steel.

This city-wide, World War II memorial will be gone next year, and city and state officials should quickly reinstate those words emblazoned on the stadium that are dedicated "with eternal gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve equality and freedom throughout the world. Time will not dim the glory of their deeds."

Fred B. Shoken is a local historian.

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