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November 11, 2010

Warriors, Monuments and the Park

Norman M. Covert

These lines, chipped into a sentry stone in Gibraltar, are by an unknown author:

God and the soldier All men adore

In time of trouble And no more;

For when war is over And all things righted,

God is neglected – The old soldier slighted


You can bet that if veterans are going to be honored, it always takes a group of veterans to sponsor, and conduct it!


Frederick’s Francis Scott Key Post 11, The American Legion, is gearing up early today, setting the stage for the annual Veterans Day observance at Memorial Grounds Park at West 2nd and North Bentz Streets. That’s today, November 11th at 11 A.M.


The program will feature an array of military and civilian color guards, patriotic music and spoken tributes. You are guaranteed to see genuine heroes and those who just don’t talk about it, but each of them proud of their service, especially their comrades in arms. The brotherhood is one of a kind.


Today’s ceremony begins at 10:35 A.M. with “Echo Taps,” organized by Col. Fred Schumaker. Brass musicians will offer two stanzas each of Taps, while arrayed from Mt. Olivet Cemetery up Market Street to West 2nd Street. The final stanza will be offered between Record and Bentz Streets, timed to end at the 11th hour, reminiscent of the official end of hostilities in World War I.


I don’t remember seeing a Veterans Day Parade in Frederick. The fabulous 78th annual City of Brunswick parade last Sunday attracted units from the four-state region, all marching proudly along Potomac Street.


In 1924 an Armistice Day parade traversed Market and Bentz Streets. It was prelude to the first big remembrance of 20th Century veterans conducted in Memorial Grounds Park, former cemetery of the Evangelical Reformed Church. That ceremony featured a Who’s Who of Frederick notables, culminating in unveiling and dedicating of the classic design World War I monument “Victory.”


Among the luminaries was long-time Mayor Lloyd C. Culler, Joseph Dill Baker, A. Leroy McCardell of the Evangelical Reformed Church, Circuit Court Judge Glenn H. Worthington, County Commissioner H. Dorsey Etchison, and Brig. Gen. Milton A. Reckord, who served most of his professional life as Maryland State Adjutant General.


Nearly 60 years later, a committee of World War II veterans started the difficult process of erecting a monument to honor their comrades who were born in Frederick County. The War to End All Wars … didn’t.


That impressive World War II granite scroll on the west side sparked development of the park we know today. Within five years Korean War veterans were dedicating their monument on the north side. On the 20th anniversary of the end of hostilities in Vietnam (April 30, 1995), local war veterans dedicated the impressive black granite obelisk.


Several committee members of the Vietnam Memorial were struck by the poor condition of the World War I monument. They determined to transition their manpower and establish a committee to repair and refurbish “Victory,” a project completed in November 1996.


As plans were being finalized for “Victory,” the next project became obvious – the park needed major repairs.


Service organizations which had donated generously to each of the monument projects didn’t flinch when the new iteration of the park committee showed up to scrounge for more donations. Even the city and county listened to the pitch and each provided significant services in kind to the new project.


It took many hours of physical labor and donated commercial and government resources to remove the old concrete, and make repairs above and below ground. The park remains a cemetery and work required sensitivity to buried headstones, empty vaults and evidence of human remains.


The beautiful park featured new sidewalks, benches, repositioned flag poles, the patio monument listing all wars fought by American youth, and the Veterans Memorial Bell. The dedication ceremony on November 11, 1998, was a reprise of the 1924 event with The Rev. Frederick Wenner, Mayor James Grimes and Col. Mark Hoke delivering the original dedicatory speeches of their predecessors.


Local government support wavered when former Mayor Jennifer Dougherty feared – with good reason – that the city might be sued for millions of bucks. Called offensive, the Ten Commandments Monument stood amid the granite and bronze memorials.


The Eagles Club on East Patrick came to the rescue, taking ownership of a strip of the park that paralleled Bentz Street. It contains the Ten Commandments monument and the large marker detailing the names of persons who were originally interred at the site and reburied at Mt. Olivet Cemetery before the 1924 property transfer.


Ownership includes entrance stanchions on the corners – Calvary Drive on the north and West 2nd Street on the south. They were rebuilt and crowned with welcoming pineapples.


The city and county were bequeathed the property jointly at the 1924 ceremony, but the city Department of Parks and Recreation has custody of the remaining portion of the park.


The department established an ad hoc committee with volunteers from each of the war memorial committees. It helps manage and protect the park. It recently approved the Rotary Club of Frederick’s periodic cleanup and beautification project. The park was gussied up November 6th, in time for the Veterans Day commemoration.


Care of the individual monuments has been the project of the surviving veterans who raised the money and erected the beautiful monuments. Age now limits their ability to continue the husbandry. Maryland’s Military Monuments Commission cleans and refaces the World War I monument, “Victory,” each spring.


So the next time you ride by Memorial Grounds Park, snap a salute to the veterans honored there – I do.


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