Memorial to APG workers unveiled in Aberdeen's Festival Park Wednesday

The Aberdeen Proving Ground Memorial, which commemorates the civilian employees, contract workers and military personnel connected with the Harford County Army post who died while performing their duties, was unveiled in Aberdeen's Festival Park Wednesday morning.

The workers' memorial is dedicated to 46 people connected with APG who died in workplace accidents, as well as the late Maj. Gen. Harry Greene, who had a command at the post before being killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2014.

The memorial also is dedicated to 82 people connected with the post who died during the worldwide 1918 influenza pandemic.

Among those attending the ceremony were families of three workers among those whom the memorial honors, Maj. Beecher Dierdorff, who died in 1966 in a helicopter crash while flying back and forth to rescue people during a blizzard; Grat Blackburn, a civilian worker who died in 2009 during experiments conducted at the Army Research Lab; and George Lazzaro Jr., a civilian diver who died in 2013 while working underwater in the post's Super Pond.

The survivors group included Maj. Dierdorff's daughter, Peggy Dierdorff Waterworth; Mr. Blackburn's widow, Peggy Blackburn, his daughters, Amy Blackburn Rice and Nikki Smith and Smith's husband, Nick; and Mr. Lazzaro's mother, Margaret C. Lazzaro, his father, George Lazzaro Sr. and his sister, Margaret A. Lazzaro.

"It;s a great way to keep his memory alive," Margaret A. Lazzaro, a resident of Bowleys Quarters in Baltimore County, said of the memorial to her brother and his fellow workers.

"Today is a memorial day as we remember those who gave their lives for this great country working at Aberdeen Proving Ground," the Rev. Lewis Geigan, chaplain for the American Legion's Bernard L. Tobin Post 128, said as he gave the invocation.

The memorial unveiled Wednesday is for those who did not go to war, but still put their lives at risk to test weapons, equipment and vehicles used by the military, APG's primary mission for the past 100 years.

Aberdeen Proving Ground was founded in 1917, the same year the United States entered World War I. The APG Centennial Celebration Association has overseen construction of the memorial, which started with last December's ground breaking.

The memorial cost about $60,000 to build, with the majority of the cost covered by major donations from businesses and organizations including APG Federal Credit Union, CACI, Cray and Leidos, the Harford County Office of Economic Development; purchases of brick pavers by members of the community; and in-kind donations of services and materials by companies that built and landscaped the memorial, according to Charlie Nietubicz, chair of the centennial association's memorial committee.

Neitubicz said the memorial could have cost about $10,000 more if not for the in-kind contributions.

"Donations were essential in making this a reality," he said during the ceremony.

Don Lewis, president and CEO of APG Federal Credit Union, noted the financial institution was founded 79 years ago because civilian workers and military personnel on the post wanted to form their own bank.

The nonprofit, member-owned credit union, headquartered in Edgewood, has more than 122,000 members today, according to its website.

Lewis described APG as "a place that works through a process that brings us to a point where we can sit out in the open air and feel secure and safe because we are strong."

Aberdeen Proving Ground, which has a civilian and military population that ranges between 18,000 and 22,000 people per day, is Harford County's largest employer.

County Executive Barry Glassman, who presented a proclamation on behalf of the county government, noted generations of Harford residents, including his grandfather, mother and sister, have worked on the post.

"We are thankful as a county for our relationship with Aberdeen Proving Ground, and we remember those folks today," he said.

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said the history of the city, which is observing its 125th anniversary this year, is "permanently intertwined with that of our neighbor to the east."

"Our communities have lived together and grieved for the loss of life of service members and civilians killed in service to our great country abroad, at home and here at Aberdeen Proving Ground," he said.

The audience was also treated to remarks from Jim Fasig, the former technical director of the Aberdeen Test Center at APG; Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, commander of the Research, Development and Engineering Command; and David Craig, a former Harford County executive, Havre de Grace mayor, state legislator and the current director of Maryland World War I Centennial Commission.

Craig noted his father, aunts and uncles worked at APG and, as a teenager, he worked as a busboy in a restaurant on the post.

Craig said the names of people who made "the supreme sacrifice" and died during wars can be found on monuments, "but we don't see the names of the ones who did not make it over there and did not come back, because they didn't have to, they were already here."

Amy Blackburn Rice said that prior to his death, her father had been employed at APG for 41 years, preceded by four years in the Navy with service during the Vietnam War.

Rice said she was glad to see people come out to support "the people who are behind the scenes, are the ones who do the supporting of the military.

Rice, who lives in Fallston, along with her sister and brother in law, and her mother, stressed that APG workers understand the post is a center for experiments and testing.

"Every person who goes through the gate in the morning knows there's a chance they won't come back out," she said. "They're heroes in their own right."

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