"Today is a somber day of reflection," reminded Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty on Monday morning, standing before a crowd assembled at Millard Tydings Memorial Park for the city's annual Memorial Day observance.
Dougherty and city other officials and members of local veterans organizations were again gathered by the park's war memorial, with the less-than-somber sounds of children on the playground in the background, to commemorate Memorial Day and lay wreaths by the monument in honor of the nation's war casualties, as well as all veterans.
About 140 people came out for the ceremony, singing along with Judy Glassman to "God Bless America" before Dougherty and keynote speaker Col. Darryl J. Briggs, from Aberdeen Proving Ground, delivered speeches.
Richard Ferguson, of the American Legion, led the event. Groups that included the Susquehanna Hose Company, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Masonic Lodge lay wreaths and participated in the ceremony.
Dougherty recalled all major American wars: "Battle lines were drawn and blood was spilled on American soil and in foreign lands."
He listed the casualty numbers from the War of Independence, the War of 1812 – in which Havre de Grace was attacked by invading British, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism.
"These casualties have faces. They were someone's loved ones, and most importantly, our protectors," Dougherty said, asking attendees to take time to walk along the war memorial and remember those who died.
"Then these monuments will then be someone to all of us," he said.
Briggs said the city is an ideal location for the ceremony, with its connection to the War of Independence, War of 1812 and the Civil War.
"This city could be called the heart of America," he said. "Havre de Grace has sacrificed its own citizens to keep us free."
Briggs also said many people have sacrificed for the sake of the nation, not just men and women in the military.
"A sacrifice does not have to be dramatic to build impact on our community and our nation," he said. "These sacrifices include the mother and father raising their sons and daughters and praying for them as they go off to war."
"Some of us have been to war. Some of us have worked or still work at [APG]," he said, adding he salutes "those of you who have made the supreme sacrifice."
He asked those in attendance to consider what it really means to leave one's family and friends with the knowledge they might not be reunited.
"We should live our lives such that these words engraved on the war memorial shall come true," he said, quoting from a phrase on the monument: "Our flag shall wear a new luster and our new glory shall shine in the face of our people."
A small, historic plane flew over the crowd to kick off the ceremony, and a white table was set in remembrance of prisoners of war and those missing in action. The table had a symbolic place setting, with a candle and upside-down glass, as a reminder of those who could not be present for the event.
Despite some issues with the audio system in the beginning, those who came out for the ceremony said they enjoyed it and appreciated the commemoration.
Three generations of women from Bel Air – Stella Sunderland, her daughter Karen Rottmann, and her granddaughter, 17-year-old Denise Rottmann, had camped out in the park to listen.
Denise said her mother's boyfriend is a member of the Sons of the Confederacy, so they have been coming to the Memorial Day ceremony for years.
She said she liked the event, and her grandmother added it reminded her of years gone by.
"It brings back memories for me," Sunderland said, noting her late husband served in World War II. "He was so proud to be a marine," she said.
Debbie Cunningham and Rita Ewing, both of Havre de Grace, said they come out every year as members of the American Legion Ladies' Auxiliary.
"It is always touching, always a very nice ceremony," Ewing said, adding she thought Memorial Day was about "family, togetherness, being free."
Cunningham said the event brings together everyone "just to celebrate one whole great thing."
"It brings all the organizers, all the people together," she said. "A lot of people's ancestors are still standing here."
"It's just moving," Cunningham said of the ceremony. "Everybody's coming together. It's just a beautiful thing."