Taking time to remember

Service: A Memorial Day ceremony honors the three Maryland sailors killed during a terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October.

May 29, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

After a weekend of thunderous downpours, a bright sun shone from a beautiful blue sky much of yesterday, warming the hundreds of visitors gathered at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens to honor the three Maryland sailors killed in October on the USS Cole in Yemen.

The Timonium cemetery has held an annual Memorial Day ceremony for slain members of the armed forces since 1967, but this year was the first in recent memory that so closely followed the tragic deaths of Maryland residents.

As a result, there were not enough chairs to accommodate those who attended, some dressed in full uniform, to say "goodbye" and "thank you" to Joshua L. Parlett of Churchville, Patrick H. Roy of Keedysville, and Craig B. Wibberley of Williamsport -- all killed at age 19 by a terrorist attack seven months ago as their Norfolk, Va.-based ship stopped to refuel in Yemen's Aden harbor.

Seventeen Americans were killed aboard the Navy vessel that day.

Dozens of other memorials and services were held throughout the Baltimore area yesterday to remember the thousands of military men and women -- like those on the Cole -- killed while serving the nation.

There were crowds at the Inner Harbor, where a flag was lowered aboard the Taney, the last warship afloat from the attack in 1941 on Pearl Harbor. And in Annapolis, the Veterans of Foreign Wars presented a tree-planting at a World War II memorial.

In Timonium, the focus was on more recent events.

"I am inspired by the lives of Craig, Patrick and Joshua," said Rear Adm. John M. Kelly, deputy director of Surface Warfare Requirements of the Navy, in a memorial address."[They were] bright, friendly kids, full of life, who, for a thousand reasons, made the decision to join the Navy and to commit, as others have for over 200 years ... their lives, their liberty and their pursuit of honor to a cause far greater than themselves," he said.

Kelly's speech evoked tears throughout the audience.

Kelly called the family members seated in the audience by name, extending his sympathy for the men's deaths, and his appreciation for their young lives.

"From swimming, fly-fishing, working on Corvettes, leading the lacrosse team ... to helping with church activities, three of our nation's very best kids stepped forward and found out quickly just how much they were needed," Kelly said. "I cannot begin to share the pain of your loss, but I will heartily share the joy of celebrating three lives so well lived."

After his speech, family members walked slowly up to the cemetery's Children of Liberty memorial and added their sons' names to the 11 others listed there, all commemorating people who died in service as a result of terrorism.

The event was an opportunity for the Wibberley and Parlett families to meet, said Craig's mother, Patty Wibberley. At the close of the affair, they exchanged gifts, hugs and memories.

"We were looking forward to this," said Patty Wibberley of Williamsport. "We knew it would be emotional, but we wanted to be here."

The ceremony, which took place at the Circle of Immortals, included performances by local choral groups Maryland Sings and the Mission of Hope Choir, and Irish tenor John McDermott.

The 229th Maryland Army National Guard Band and color guard units from the Navy, Maryland National Guard and the 1st Marine Division also took part.

Here, as at hundreds of similar memorial services throughout the nation yesterday, patriotism -- not grief -- was the overriding theme.

Hundreds of flags waved at the Timonium cemetery, visitors ate red, white and blue cupcakes, and many sang along to "The Star Spangled Banner," "God Bless America" and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"A lot of modern people think this stuff that we're doing out here today is corny. But they're wrong," said the event's keynote speaker, WBAL radio personality Ron Smith.

"If we don't value what we have, what was created for us by our predecessors and handed down to us to be cared for, why then, we shall surely lose it. It shall be taken away and sorely missed, because it will never be restored."

Smith's sentiments were echoed by each of the speakers yesterday, who reminded the audience of the freedoms they enjoy because of others' courage.

Since the death of his son, said Michael Roy, his family is more keenly aware of that war-earned privilege than ever before.

"We no longer see the service and Memorial Day in the same perspective," Roy said. "When you see a cemetery or a flag, it has a new meaning and depth to it."

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