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Advertise on the Tentacle

February 6, 2004

On Life and Lives

Norman M. Covert

It is no funny joke that when you get old, the possibility of lots of friends attending your funeral is greatly diminished, primarily because when you do get old, chances are lots of your friends haven’t made it to your age. That is a drawback to old age, I guess.

However, friendships are built up over time as you live and work. Friendships are deeply felt and it seems every time I am stuck at home recovering, one of my friends dies. It has happened again as I recover from another bout with the medical establishment.

Mr. Robert J. Peel was a truly wonderful man. Boundless energy, keen intellect, a “giving” pilgrim, and in reality the true “Bard of Fort Detrick.” Bob died January 25 leaving a legacy of service to the community. He was a big help with the Scouting programs, also an active member of the Gideons and Child Evangelism.

When I first came to Frederick, Bob Peel was a willing teacher for me, sharing his decades of experience as a Camp Detrick soldier (he was discharged a master sergeant) and later a key member of the facilities engineering team at Fort Detrick. I have pages of Bob’s hand-written anecdotes on life inside the gates. I could not have written “Cutting Edge” without his stories and critical eye.

Bob never gave in to the frailties of old age, giving me the latest of his “memories” last fall. When Fort Detrick republished my book last year, they didn’t tell me they deleted some of those delightful stories that gave the World War II soldiers in Frederick such character and permanence in our memory. They will appear in print again because I will see it done. I know Friend Bob is in God’s care now.

What a privilege it was to have known Mr. William O. Lee Jr. I never called him “Sonny” or “Bill,” always “Mr. Lee.”

I first met him when he was an alderman for the City of Frederick and I was trying to achieve a rapprochement between Fort Detrick and the community. Mr. Lee was a man of principle, ethical in his business and personal relationships, and a man who made things happen. He was a soft-spoken gentleman and never would I have guessed that with that manner he could have been effective as a coach, but he was!

One of the proud moments of my life in Frederick was receiving an award from Community Living. It hangs on my office wall and bears the name “William O. Lee Award.” Guess you could say it, too, but I am a better person for having known Mr. Lee.

I must note, too, that last winter I was unable to do much more than share with friends my sorrow at the death of Mr. Kenneth Bartgis, whom I had known many years at Fort Detrick. We did many a volunteer project together and enjoyed playing our brass instruments together on such occasions as Easter Sunrise Service at the Baker Park Bandshell.

Kenny was known for tracking down crippled children and escorting them to the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia for free medical care. He was a Marine who wasn’t afraid to muster you to help out children’s and veteran’s causes. We both enjoyed the January Twelfth Night Celebrations at Steiner House, where as former Kings of Mardi Gras we helped the Frederick Women’s Civic Club crown the new kings.

The last time I saw Kenny was at a political rally at Independent Hose Company where our Dixieland Band was playing. Kenny came over to speak to me and tell me two or three of the latest jokes. I said, “Where’s your tuba?” Kenny said it was in the trunk, whereupon at my urging he retrieved it and played along with us for the next hour. Semper Fi, Kenny.

I must note, too, the death of former Army Nurse Lt. Constance Bloom, wife of retired Army Lt. Col. Herbert Bloom. She was one of those angels of mercy who worked tirelessly to save the lives of soldiers wounded in the Battle of Normandy France in June and July 1944. She served in Europe until the end of the war.

I met Connie at Rotary where she was what we called a “Rotary Ann,” spouse of a Rotarian. She was a special lady and always wagged her finger in admonishment when I called her “Hot Lips,” a reference to the nurses of the television show M*A*S*H. She met Herb in England, where both were assigned prior to the D-day invasion and they were married there. I’ll miss seeing her.

I was sorry to read that Frederick News Post Managing Editor Michael Powell died Thursday January 22. Michael and I had a professional relationship, it never got personal, except that we respected each other and understood each other’s goals.

Michael and I didn’t always agree on how to put together the News Post, but old newspaper guys love to argue about that. It makes us better. The greatest compliment I can give him is that Michael was a “Newspaperman.” My editors told me a journalist was an out of work reporter.

“In my day,” as we old flacks are wont to say, being sick was no excuse for not doing your part to get out the paper. Michael only allowed his long and arduous battle with cancer to get in the way, refusing to relinquish more than temporary control of the “budget.” Eventually the disease won out, but his influence on the daily news in Frederick is evident and we mourn his passing.

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