Memorials - public and private

Speeches and flags, thoughts and tears

May 30, 2006|By JULIE BELL | JULIE BELL,SUN REPORTER

As scores listened to a dignitary-filled Memorial Day ceremony nearby, Kathleen McNeal Sheeler clutched flowers and pushed her daughter in a stroller up a cemetery hill, her young son dutifully walking beside her.

She comes often to the graves of her father, a World War II veteran who died just before Christmas in 2001, and her stock-analyst brother, who died months before that in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

They are buried beside one another at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, where Memorial Day remembrances came yesterday in both public and private moments.

A military band played. American flags waved in the soft, hot breeze. Politicians and a National Guard general gave speeches and presented plaques commemorating nine of the Maryland residents killed in action since Memorial Day last year. Dozens gathered to listen, many of them under three large white tents that had been set up for the event.

But throughout the ceremony, McNeal Sheeler and others could be seen in the distance at the vast cemetery, lingering over the burial places of loved ones.

McNeal Sheeler and children - daughter McKenzie Sheeler, 16 months, and Daniel Michael Sheeler, 3 - picked their way among the tiny American flags marking graves on the hill. Their destination was just yards from where members of a Maryland National Guard rifle team waited motionless, sweltering in the sun in their dress uniforms, to fire a ceremonial salute.

McNeal Sheeler paused a few moments there, at the graves of her father, Michael McNeal, who died at 78, and her brother Daniel McNeal, who was 29, and spoke with her son.

"He thinks Memorial Day is the pool and ice cream and snowballs," McNeal Sheeler said later of young Danny. "I want to teach them there's more."

The theme was similar at the official ceremony, where keynote speaker Joe Nawrozki, a former Sun reporter and veteran who served in Vietnam, covering the war as a correspondent for the Army, said the sounds of Memorial Day had come to be associated, among other things, with children in a car saying, "Are we there yet?"

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., accompanied by his parents, encouraged the assembled to teach children how others made great sacrifices while serving in the armed forces. In his remarks, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger remembered his father, a World War II veteran who was with him last Memorial Day but has since died.

More than words, it was the presence of those assembled that seemed to comfort a number of family members of those recently killed.

"For me, it means that they remember," said Cecil Prince of Bel Air, father of Sgt. 1st Class Neil Armstrong Prince, who was 35 when he died in a June 2005 roadside bomb attack in Iraq. "I hope they keep on remembering, because he paid a price for freedom."

Ehrlich presented the plaques to family members who attended or who had them accepted on their behalf. They were among 18 with ties to Maryland listed in yesterday's program who had died since last Memorial Day from injuries sustained in action.

"This is my first Memorial Day since my son's death," said Michelle Murphy, whose son, Army Reserve Spc. Kendell K. Frederick, 21, of Randallstown, was killed by a roadside bomb in October 2005 in Tikrit. "We try to attend every event to honor him."

Frederick, a Trinidad and Tobago native, died at a time when he was trying to gain U.S. citizenship, inspiring legislation to make the process easier for service members. Murphy and her husband, Ken Murphy, said yesterday that they were gratified when the bill's co-sponsor, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, called them last week to say the bill had passed the Senate.

For Robyn and Norman Anderson Jr. of Parkton, the day was part of a long weekend devoted to commemorating their son, Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III, 21, who was killed in October by a suicide bomber while serving in Iraq. They spent hours on Sunday under a shade tree near his grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Robyn Anderson said, with tears in her eyes. "Sometimes, you want quiet time," she said.

But yesterday was meaningful in a different way. "It really touches your heart and soul that ... people you don't even know care enough to come out and pay respects," she said.

The dozens of others who were there each had a story. Some remembered those killed recently; others, those long dead.

Stephanie Anatsui, 9, and Alex Godley, 18, came with their mother, Priscila Godley, fiancee of Staff Sgt. Robert Hernandez, 48, of Silver Spring. He was killed in March by what the military said was an improvised explosive device. And Alice Skeals, 93, of Cockeysville came, as she always does, to remember her only child, Theodore M. Skeals Jr., killed at age 20 in Korea in 1951.

Shortly afterward, as workers were loading chairs used at the event, Madeleine Meyer sat quietly by her husband's grave. Marshall Meyer was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He died in 2002 at age 82, and Meyer stops by frequently to tell him about things.

"This always brings back memories," she said tearfully about Memorial Day, after getting into her car. "He was so patriotic. He loved everything about his flag and his country."

juliana.bell@baltsun.com

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