Reviving a symbol of sacrifice

Ceremony rededicates recently renovated veterans park and its World War II monument


There are things about the war he would like to forget, but when Joseph L. Thomas Sr. and his fellow veterans get together at Fort Howard Veterans Park overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, the conversation inevitably turns to remembering.

Thomas, 80, grew up around the corner from the historic spot, enlisted in the Army shortly after World War II began, and marched across Belgium, Germany and France in what seemed like a nonstop firefight. He remembers family members and friends who never made it back.

This Memorial Day, remembering those who died will take on added significance for Thomas and others here. The Baltimore County parks department recently finished renovating the park and its decades-old monument, which honors the 150 men and women from Fort Howard who served in the war.

At a ceremony yesterday to rededicate the park, a half-dozen veterans in attendance, whose names are etched in the stone monument, were recognized just before a flag was raised. Later, Thomas walked up to the memorial to finger his name and to share war stories with the others.

"I wouldn't say I was in lots of battles -- I'd say one continuous battle," said Thomas, who was a combat engineer with the 32nd Engineer Battalion. "Not one minute let up. Not one minute."

Don E. Warner, 79, served on the transport ships that brought soldiers from the East Coast to the Caribbean. Like most of the men here, he was not the only one in his family involved in the war effort. His brother's name, Dale Warner, also appears on the monument.

"It's a great tribute to all the guys," Warner said. "All of them gave a whole lot."

Years after a school building behind the monument was razed, this property on North Point Road was little more than a grassy knoll maintained by the Order of Odd Fellows' local lodge. The monument, first dedicated about 1944, became partially buried. Stars embedded next to six names, signifying death in battle, were worn or missing.

Baltimore County's Department of Recreation and Parks began its work last year, landscaping the park, adding a parking lot and a brick walkway, on top of which the monument now sits. The shoulder-high stone has been cleaned, and new stars should be embedded soon. County officials said work on athletic fields and a walking trail is under way.

"It was a war of unprecedented scale, and it has defined the world for more than a generation," Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said at the dedication yesterday. "The stories and images still capture our hearts and minds today."

Fort Howard, just east and across the water from Sparrows Point, is steeped in history and war. The Battle of North Point was fought nearby during the War of 1812, a conflict that delayed advancing British troops and gave Baltimore time to prepare.

So it was fitting, some said, that restoring the park was something of a battle itself. Initially, developers planned to build houses on the site, which would have required moving the monument. That was when the community made a case for remembering.

"When they started talking about how they were going to build homes back there ... that's when we all went up in arms," Thomas said. "So, you see, we ended up winning the battle without firing a shot."

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