It's an honor no soldier would seek.
But Pfc. Donald Robert Schafer, a 23-year-old Army tank operator from Essex who was shot in the arm while in Iraq, stood with poise and dignity yesterday as he accepted a plaque acknowledging his courage.
Before a crowd of hundreds at the Memorial Day ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, the soldier used his injured right arm - held together by a large metal brace with pins - to shake hands with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
"Don't feel sorry for me," Schafer said after the ceremony. "I was just doing my job. I'm glad I'm home to celebrate."
He does not know if he will ever regain full use of his arm.
The veterans of the Iraq war were recognized yesterday at the annual ceremony in Timonium, along with soldiers who fought in the Korean War, which ended 50 years ago this summer. It was the 32nd Memorial Day recognized by the federal government as a holiday.
Veterans were also honored at other ceremonies around the region, including in Centreville, home to a soldier slain in Iraq, and in downtown Baltimore.
At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Maryland Stadium Authority dedicated a veterans memorial at the south end of the B&O warehouse. Stainless steel letters from the old Memorial Stadium spell out: "Time Will Not Dim the Glory of Their Deeds." Additionally, encased in a shatterproof glass case, there is a brass urn from Memorial Stadium that contains soil from U.S. military cemeteries throughout the world.
In Centreville, there was a parade for veterans who served in Iraq, with a special tribute to Cpl. Jason David Mileo, who lived in Centreville and was killed in the war. Mileo's mother and stepfather, Leah and Phil Hall, were part of the parade and were honored in a ceremony afterward.
Three Marylanders were killed in Iraq: Mileo, Army Spc. George A. Mitchell Jr. and Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey. They are among 196 coalition soldiers, including 162 Americans, who lost their lives.
The Dulaney Valley ceremony took place at the Circle of the Immortals, an area dedicated in 1967 and reserved for Marylanders killed in military action.
It represents those killed in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the 1991 Persian Gulf war, sailors who died in an attack on the USS Cole and those killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Featured speakers included Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, and Ehrlich, who announced it was his 17th Memorial Day appearance at Dulaney Valley. Ehrlich spoke of his father, a Korean War veteran who sat by his side, as well as other Marylanders who were "wounded and paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq."
"Freedom is indeed expensive," Ehrlich told the crowd, referring to the war on terrorism. "We must have one goal: victory. There is no alternative."
The governor talked about his father's experience as a Marine in Korea and about the 54,000 Americans who died there.
After his speech, Ehrlich presented Schafer with a "Children of Liberty" plaque, named for the memorial of the same name dedicated at Dulaney Valley to Maryland servicemen and women who died at the hands of terrorists.
Schafer, trained to be a tank driver and weapons loader, said three bullets shattered his right arm. The brace he wears is so large he must rip the arms of his shirts to accommodate it.
The soldier was wounded April 5, less than a month after arriving in the Mideast. He was in a convoy of armored vehicles headed into the heart of Baghdad when an anti-tank rocket hit his tank, sparking a fire he couldn't extinguish.
After he and other soldiers decided to abandon the tank, Schafer and the crew climbed onto the back of a personnel carrier where Ron Martz, a reporter with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was sitting. Schafer and another soldier began shooting at bunkers and enemy vehicles.
In a matter of minutes, Schafer was hit, falling on top of Martz, possibly saving the journalist's life.
"I was thinking that I really didn't want to lose my arm," Schafer said.
As Schafer's blood soaked Martz's left leg, Schafer asked Martz to hold his hand.
"Thanks," he said to the reporter. "I think I'm ready to go home now."
Schafer said yesterday that many of his friends from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division are still in Iraq. For him, Memorial Day isn't only about remembering those who lost their lives.
"It's also about remembering people who are still over there," he said.