Monument rebuilder treasures letters

Stories from donors show war touches all, Carroll woman says

June 26, 2000|By Deborah Bach | Deborah Bach,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The letter that particularly moved Jo Israelson was from a woman born and raised in Ireland.

The woman's grandfather died in World War I before she was born, and she recounted how her grandmother, then a pregnant widow with three toddlers, kept his photo and war medals in the kitchen. As a child, the woman recalled, she inquired about her grandfather.

"I asked her where he was, and her reply was, `Somewhere in the fields of Flanders,'" the woman wrote.

Now living in Baltimore, the woman figured her grandfather likely met Americans during the war. For that reason, she felt compelled to send a donation to Israelson, a Union Bridge woman raising funds to preserve a World War I monument outside the old railway station in the Carroll County town. Since The Sun published an article about the monument almost a month ago, Israelson has received letters from around the state containing war trivia, requests for information and personal accounts.

"I was surprised by the intimacy of the letters and the breadth of everything from genealogy to personal response," says Israelson, an artist who has lived in Union Bridge for 10 years.

One letter was from a woman searching for information about a relative thought to be the last soldier killed in World War I.

Another was from a longtime Marylander who said her appreciation for Union Bridge's historic value prompted her to send a donation. One donation was accompanied by a note reading simply, "Please accept this check from an 80-year-old veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict, to be used toward a memorial to all victims."

Israelson, whose grandfather, father and an uncle fought in World War II, says the letter from the woman raised in Ireland illustrates the universal effect of war.

"It doesn't really matter where you're from -- we're all touched by that kind of event," she says.

Although the last world war ended more than 50 years ago, Nancy Kurtz says those testaments to the past are as relevant now as ever.

Kurtz sits on the Governor's Commission on Maryland Military Monuments, which provides funding to restore and conserve memorials. She monitors the condition of military monuments throughout the state and says they evoke a powerful response.

"Everywhere I go there are flags, wreaths, flowers," says Kurtz, the monuments survey administrator for the Maryland Historical Trust. "There is almost always some indication that the monuments are cared for by people. We've had rededication ceremonies and people respond from the heart. It's something that's really important to people. It's their families."

The Union Bridge memorial, one of about 360 military monuments in Maryland, is engraved with the names of 774 people who served in World War I.

Dedicated in 1920 by employees of the now-defunct Western Maryland Railway Co., the granite and brass structure is similar to other railway monuments in Hagerstown, Cumberland and Elkins, W.Va.

The plaque bearing the names, presumably of Western Maryland Railway employees, has detached from the stone and is held on by a clothesline.

Israelson has collected about $400 toward the monument's restoration and says the cost of repairs is estimated at about $7,000. Kurtz says she'll raise the Union Bridge memorial project for consideration by the governor's commission when it meets next month.

A small museum in the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore has two books listing all Maryland veterans from World War I and World War II. The museum is open to the public by appointment. Information: 410-576-6000.

Israelson will respond to letters and work on technology to handle the quickly growing stack of information.

"I'm going to teach myself to do database," she says. "I just bought Excel for Dummies."

Contributions can be sent to: WMR War Memorial Fund, Farmers & Mechanics National Bank, Union Bridge Branch, P.O. Box 489, Union Bridge, 21791.

Sun staff writer Sandra Crockett contributed to this article.

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