There were no somber crowds, no guest tents, no military musicians or American Gold Star mothers, not even flags on the flagpoles, as Alan Walden toured the Circle of the Immortals at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on a chilly, misty morning, two weeks before Memorial Day.
The flags were down due to the weather, and Walden, a student of military history, was enlightening a reporter about the only two places in the country where flags are legally required to be flown 24/7, rain or shine — the Dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, and Baltimore's own Fort McHenry, where American soldiers held the British at bay during the War of 1812.
"I am a pure, unabashed, unapologetic, unrepentant patriot," said Walden, 78, of Cross Keys, a retired NBC Radio correspondent and news anchor for WBAL-AM from 1986 to 2000, where he also did commentaries known as "Walden's Ponderings."
The proof of his patriotism can be seen from his honorary and working titles, including chairman emeritus of the group Friends of Fort McHenry, president of the Baltimore Council of the Navy League of the United States, and honorary colonel of the Maryland Line, first battalion of the 175th Infantry Regiment, based in Pikesville.
"I am really locked in," he said.
But nowhere is Walden's patriotic passion more apparent than in the Circle of the Immortals, in Towson, dedicated in 1967, with its low stone wall encircling graves and monuments to Maryland veterans who were killed in combat and in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Walden will celebrate his 25th year as master of ceremonies of the annual Memorial Day celebration at Dulaney Valley on May 26.
The event, a well-known Memorial Day staple, is also scheduled to include speeches by U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Brig. Gen. Scott Kelly of the Maryland Air National Guard; and Janice Chance, president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to the country. The keynote speaker is Mary Gail Hare, retired Sun staff writer.
The 229th Maryland Army National Guard Band will perform, as will color guard units from the Maryland National Guard, the Patriot Guard Riders and the Elkridge Young Marines, among other groups.
"There will be flags everywhere," Walden said knowingly.
In his gravelly, mellifluous voice, Walden will read aloud an honor roll of veterans who died in the past year or so, and a verse from the poem "The Young British Soldier," written by Rudyard Kipling in 1895 as British troops fought in Afghanistan:
"When first under fire an' you're wishful to duck,
"Don't look nor take 'eed at the man that is struck,
"Be thankful you're livin', and trust to your luck
"And march to your front like a soldier."
Walden wishes he didn't have to read such words. He wishes there wasn't a need for organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"Ideally, there shouldn't be any, because there shouldn't be any war," he said. "But human nature flies in the face of that. Try as we may, we can't seem to get past it."
'I'm your man'
Walden emceed his first Memorial Day ceremony at Dulaney Valley in 1989. John Armiger, then owner of the cemetery, had heard that Walden, then recently arrived in Baltimore for a WBAL job, had become active at Fort McHenry. Armiger called Walden and asked him to be master of ceremonies.
The next year, Armiger asked if Walden would be willing to emcee the event every year.
"I said, 'I'm your man,' " recollected Walden, himself a U.S. Army veteran who served as a military policeman, though not during wartime.