On a bright and warm Memorial Day, hundreds of current military personnel and veterans, their families, and members of the public gathered at a green cemetery expanse to mark the deaths of nine service members killed since last May in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During a somber ceremony at the Circle of the Immortals in Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium that included bagpipers, a military band and a 21-gun salute, the crowd learned about the lives and passions of the nine men, who hailed from Baltimore, Frederick, Waldorf and Hagerstown, among other parts of Maryland. Many of them were in their early or mid-20s when they were killed, and left behind wives and children.
A light breeze occasionally cooled those assembled as speakers — including Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a colonel in the Army Reserve — discussed the importance of using the holiday to honor fallen and injured soldiers and their families.
"America is at war with an implacable foe who has no honor," said Alan Walden, a longtime Baltimore-area broadcast journalist who is chairman of the Patriots of Fort McHenry, a volunteer organization. "And America is at the mall."
Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, an Air Force veteran, recalled how she used to mark Memorial Day with her mother, traveling from cemetery to cemetery to drop fresh-cut flowers at the graves of fallen relatives.
"The casualties occurring almost daily in Iraq or Afghanistan are so real to us today, it's easy to forget the casualties of yesterday," she said.
People came from as near as a couple of miles and as far as the United Kingdom to observe the ceremony.
Nelson Realo and his wife, Nancy, have several links to the military, and came Monday morning from their home in Hunt Valley. He retired as a captain in the Navy in 1995, after serving in the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War.
"I wanted to honor the people that died during the wars that I was in," said Nelson Realo, a physician.
Nancy Realo said she comes to Dulaney Valley for the memorial service every year, and that besides her husband, her brother served in the military.
"We owe these people everything," she said. Her father is buried at Dulaney Valley, and she and her husband plan to be buried there as well.
During the ceremony, which lasted about two hours, relatives of the men killed received "Loved and Lost" plaques. They approached, some with pained expressions and tears in their eyes, to accept the plaques and some words of thanks and condolence from Brown.
Viewers also saw a re-enactment of sorts at the ceremony. A woman in Civil War-era garb, complete with a hoop skirt, laid red carnations at each grave inside the Circle of the Immortals while the 229th Maryland Army National Guard Band played "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Mary Langson came to Timonium from the United Kingdom, where she lives in the Bristol area. She has been in America for weeks visiting family members. A member of the Royal British Legion, a charity that helps British service members and their families, Langson said she wanted to compare the ways Americans and the British honor their fallen.
"It was nice to see so many young people," Langson said. "It was the sincerity I liked. It was a very family-oriented thing."