Fort McHenry memorial observes Maryland's Defenders' Day, 9/11 victims

Reading the names those killed, Fort McHenry visitors observed Defenders' Day and 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Under a giant, flapping American flag at Fort McHenry Sunday, War of 1812 re-enactors stood solemnly at attention as visitors took turns reading aloud the names of Marylanders who died during two separate attacks on U.S. soil.

First were the names of the 45 soldiers killed in the Battle of Baltimore from Sept. 12 through 14, 1814, from "Pvt. Gregorious Andre, Union Yagers, 5th Maryland" to "Pvt. Isaac Woolf, Baltimore Union Greens, 27th Maryland."

Then came those of the 69 Marylanders who died at the Pentagon, the World Trade Centers and aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

The dual memorial service recognized both Defenders' Day, which commemorates the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the 15th anniversary of the attacks that would shape the country for years to come.

"Just as we honor the old defenders of Baltimore who you've spoken of, and honor those neighbors we lost 15 years ago today, we seek also to honor those who walk their patrols, who stand their posts and who run into the fire for all of us," Park Ranger Shannon McLucas told the group.

Few of the dozens of visitors could have known that David Cole, who stood in a Fort McHenry quartermaster's uniform among the re-enactors, had been given a somber task following the 9/11 attacks: Sorting through victims' belongings.

Cole, 68, of Severn, had served in Operation Desert Storm. But he said no experience came close to going through the shoes, watches and other personal items of those who were killed in the Pentagon that day.

"The hardest thing I ever did was the Pentagon," said Cole, who is retired from the Army Reserve. "It was very difficult and emotional."

As a civilian property officer for the Pentagon, Cole also was charged with keeping track of the American flag that was memorably draped over the site following the attack.

"While I wasn't the one who hung it out, I was assigned to make sure it didn't go away, that it was preserved," he said.

The flag, which became a piece of American history the instant it was unfurled over the building, has been sent to the U.S. Army Museum System, Cole said.

Cole said he has been volunteering as a re-enactor at Fort McHenry for seven years, and he enjoyed Sunday's service.

"It's nice that people remember," he said. "This new generation is a society that's so focused on change, what's new, what's next. All of us appreciate stopping once in a while to appreciate those who we wouldn't be here without."

One participant in the ceremony adjusted a wreath as the names were read; others ended the brief service with a historical rendition of the national anthem.

The recent controversy over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem has prompted Fort McHenry visitors to further scrutinize Key's legacy during their tours, McLucas said.

Kaepernick, who is bi-racial, has said he would not stand to honor "a country that oppresses black people and people of color," where "there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Supporters of the quarterback's protest pointed out that Key owned slaves and helped spark Washington's first race riot in 1835. The anthem's seldom-sung third verse refers to the blood of British hirelings and slaves washing out "their foul footsteps' pollution."

Fort McHenry's rangers welcome the chance to delve into Key's legacy — and his complex record on race, McLucas said.

"The discussion is worth having," McLucas said. "It started people wanting to learn more about their history, which is what we try to do at the National Park Service."

Staff Sgt. Steven Riddle, 30, of Finksburg, stopped by the ceremony with fellow members of the Army Reserve during a drilling break. It was his first trip to Fort McHenry.

For a service member, Riddle said, hearing the names read aloud "gives you a realization of everything you've done, the reason why you joined, the reason why you stayed."

Gene and Jen MacFarlane of Mount Airy brought daughters Noel, 11, and Holly, 6, and Gene's mother, Beverly, to the fort for the day.

"It's nice to commemorate the events that happened 200 years ago and 15 years ago," Gene McFarlane said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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