Veteran's donation inspires display at historical society

Military: The exhibit is a look at life in the services for Harford residents.

December 07, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

When Maryanna Skowronski received a call late last year from retired Col. Benjamin S. Silver, offering to donate his World War II uniforms to the Historical Society of Harford County, she was thrilled.

But she wasn't prepared for her reaction when they arrived in the mail, neatly wrapped.

"I got a little emotional about it," she said. "It just sort of struck me to unwrap this tissue and see this swath of medals. This is a career military man, and he's entrusting the record of his career essentially to us."

Silver - who was born on a farm near Havre de Grace and served from World War II until the 1970s, earning stars, medals and other commendations for expert marksmanship, combat duty and other military service - retired to Texas several years ago. In making the donation, he wrote to Skowronski, "I want them to go to the county in which I was born, was educated and grew up."

Skowronski, administrator of the historical society, said the dress whites, the evening jacket and green fatigues from Silver's more than 30-year career inspired the exhibit at the society. Titled Answering the Call, the exhibit is a multigenerational look at life in the military for Harford County residents from the Revolutionary War to today.

"With everything going on in the world today," she said, "we thought it was an appropriate time to showcase these items."

The exhibit, which took Skowronski about 20 hours to assemble, will remain on display until the spring.

Silver said last week that Skowronski has done a "beautiful" job of bringing the show together. "I didn't even think about" an exhibit, he said when he made the donation. "I think that's marvelous."

Silver has also made numerous genealogical contributions to the society over the years, he said. He follows a long line of family soldiers who date to William Silver, who joined the American Revolution in 1776 and died that year in the Battle of White Plains, N.Y.

The walls and display cases draw viewers along through centuries of conflict - captured in photos, writings, doughboy hats, canteens and other memorabilia. Last week, some of the former military men who rifled through footlockers and closets to lend items for the exhibit talked about serving their country and helping the historical society.

Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Cardwell, who entered the Air Force in 1954 and served in the Pacific before joining the Air National Guard, lent a scrapbook that his wife, Mary, began after they were married in the 1950s.

Mary Cardwell, an active historical society member, also helped assemble the veterans exhibit.

Robert Cardwell, 68, who lives in Bel Air, shared his last-worn officer's cap, a steely blue-gray with silver insignia scrolled across the brim.

He said that while holding the hat in his hands again, his primary thought was, "Where did all the years go?"

Edward Wilsey, 77, of Bel Air, who offered his cropped, Eisenhower-style jacket worn during his service in the 1940s, said, "My main reaction was how much weight I had gained since I wore those clothes."

Even his head has gotten bigger, he said as the other former military men chuckled around a historical society research table.

"Does that mean your brain has grown?" asked John Hartman, 67, a former Marine and historical society volunteer who lives in Parkville. He shared a collection of his family's military photos for the display.

"I doubt it," Wilsey answered with a smile.

Several of the men who donated items have met through the historical society. Richard Herbig, a Jarrettsville resident and Vietnam War Army veteran who shared a green fatigue jacket for the exhibit, is president of the historical society.

"We hope to make it an annual event," he said of the exhibit.

One idea being considered for next year is an exhibit of life on the wartime home front, Skowronski said.

Maj. Gen. Warren Hodges, 80 - a Bel Air resident who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam - said he hopes the historical society receives more items from other Harford veterans. Looking at the items, he said, brings back things that tend to float "out of sight, out of mind."

"You don't remember the bad things, only the good things," he said, and the men around the table nodded quietly.

The Historical Society of Harford County is open to members and the public, but hours and services vary by day of the week. For information, call the society at 410-838-7691.

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