Saluting sacrifice, service

Remembrance: About 100 people pay tribute to veterans at a Memorial Day observance at the Baltimore National Cemetery.

May 31, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Retired Sgt. Maj. Lance Sweigart's dignified voice seemed to silence even the whistling cicadas as it carried through the acres of headstones and wreaths.

As the 30-year Army veteran sang the national anthem at yesterday's Memorial Day observance at the Baltimore National Cemetery, some veterans raised their hands in salute. Others recited the words with their hands over their hearts. Even the children in the audience stood still.

It was one of several annual rituals that seemed to take on renewed meaning in light of both the continued fighting in Iraq and this weekend's dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington.

Some who came to yesterday's service near the city/county line in Catonsville knew veterans who did not live to see memorials honoring their service. Others, including Sweigart, have children who are now serving their country in conflicts overseas.

"Each generation has to do its part to make sure we wake up in a free and democratic America," said Sweigart, a retired senior soloist with the U.S. Army Field Band who served much of his Army career at Fort Meade and who lives in Laurel. "We're losing touch with our past, with our history. It's important for us to remember."

Sweigart's father was a prisoner of war in Germany, and his son, who is in the Navy, recently returned from a deployment outside North Korea.

Reginald Jordan, a retired Army reservist who attended yesterday's ceremony, has a daughter in the Navy. She recently graduated from Virginia Tech and is serving on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

Looking out at the green fields filled with simple headstones, Jordan said Americans should not only remember fallen soldiers on Memorial Day but also remember the living. Jordan works for the Maryland Job Service and wants to make sure that the men and women who are now deployed with reserve units can come back to the jobs they left when their deployment ends.

"You have to honor the veterans, but at the same time you have to honor the veterans that don't pay the ultimate price," the Baltimore resident said. "For the ones that do come home, re-employment should not be a problem."

Yesterday's ceremony, presented by the local districts of the American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion, drew about 100 people. They sat on brown folding chairs as a veteran placed a cap representing each branch of service on five white crosses in front of the podium. Flags flapped in the breeze as the cicadas buzzed in the trees. A bugle played taps as the American flag was raised.

Veterans Frederick Wilson and Lewis Matthews said the World War II memorial dedication weighed on their minds during the ceremony. More than 100,000 people, many of them veterans, attended Saturday's dedication ceremony in Washington for the 7.4-acre tribute to those who fought in World War II. Many veterans were frustrated that the memorial took so long - 17 years - to complete, especially when World War II veterans are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day, according to published reports. Wilson, who served in Vietnam and Korea, said some of his comrades from Korea didn't live long enough to see that war's memorial take its place in the capital.

"It was a long time coming," Wilson said of the World War II monument's completion.

Matthews, who is commander of the Sons of the American Legion's Baltimore District, agreed.

"It had a great impact on today's ceremony," he said of the Washington dedication. "It took so many years for that monument to be built."

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