Six fallen soldiers are honored at memorial plaza rededication

The newly refurbished War Memorial Plaza in downtown Baltimore provided all the solemn trappings yesterday of a Veterans Day ceremony honoring fallen soldiers: A solitary bell tolled. Bagpipes wailed. A trumpet sounded taps.

Families and friends cried. Elected and military officials spoke. And a cold, steady breeze provided a chilling thread throughout the hourlong proceedings.

Yet through it all - the tears, the pageantry, the wind - Donna Gilmore's thoughts took her back to happier days three decades ago when she and her husband playfully courted each other on the same plaza where yesterday she mourned him.

"We used to come down here to the plaza when we didn't have any money and just walk around," Gilmore said. "We'd talk about the future and how he wanted to travel."

Her husband's 22-year career in the Army gave the Baltimore couple the chance to see the world, she said. But it also took the 45-year-old father of two to Iraq. And on Nov. 7, 2003, Sgt. Maj. Cornell W. Gilmore, 45, died after the Black Hawk helicopter he was flying in crashed in Tikrit.

Gilmore was one of six fallen soldiers from Maryland honored by the hundreds in attendance yesterday and their families presented with ceremonial city flags.

The others were Army Spc. Toccara R. Green, 23, of Rosedale, who died Aug. 14; Army Staff Sgt. Damion G. Campbell, 23, of Baltimore, who died Aug. 26; Army Spc. Bernard L. Ceo, 23, of Baltimore, who died Oct. 14; Army National Guard Sgt. Brian R. Conner, 36, of Gwynn Oak, who died Oct. 14; and Army Reserve Spc. Kendell Frederick, 21, of Randallstown, who died Oct. 19.

"I know this is a painful time for you," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who took the stage to the regal strains of "Fanfare for the Common Man" performed by a brass quintet. "And I know that there's a pain in your heart that will never ever heal given that sacrifice that you have laid on the altar of liberty."

O'Malley was joined on stage by several dignitaries and soldiers, including his father, a World War II veteran who flew 33 missions over Japan.

The mayor's speech was followed by comments from Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George's County Democrat and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who recently returned from Iraq, and Gen. Guy M. Walsh of the Maryland Air National Guard. Both men addressed the families sitting in the front row with words of comfort.

"They promised and prayed to come home, just as you longed for their return," Brown said. "But God had other plans. And they are with him in a better place."

Garry Green Sr., a Baltimore police detective, and his wife, Yvonne, said the ceremony was an apt reminder of the sacrifice of their daughter, Toccara, who was the first female soldier from Maryland to die in the Iraq war.

"They're recognizing her as a hero," Green said. "Honoring her keeps her memory alive."

Toccara Green and Damion G. Campbell attended Forest Park High School and participated in the school's junior ROTC program. Nearly 40 Forest Park students enrolled in the program attended the ceremony and served as ushers, representing the youngest of those in uniform at the event.

The older end, including those who have retired, was represented by men and women such as Peter D. Molan, a former Army intelligence officer. Molan stood alone holding a large white flag emblazoned with the name of his group, Veterans For Peace, and its symbol of a helmet containing a dove.

"I'm here to honor the warriors, not the war," Molan said. "It's politicians who start wars and soldiers who bring them to an end."

The ceremony also honored the more than 200 city government employees who are active or retired members of the military. One by one, each was called to the stage to receive honorary medals for their service.

Included was Connie A. Brown, acting director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. A retired Army colonel who served "31 years, two months and four days," Brown said he was honored the ceremony coincided with the rededication of War Memorial Plaza.

The city spent $1.5 million over the past year to rejuvenate the plaza built in 1927 as a memorial to the 1,769 Marylanders who died in World War I.

Gone is the dark concrete pit wedged between City Hall and the War Memorial Building that attracted more vagrants than lunchtime professionals. In its place is a rectangular 1 1/3 acres of inviting grass surrounded by soft decorative stone, plantings of red-and-white mums, new trees, lights and a fountain.

Brown said the ceremony and the new park were a "fitting memorial." He was reminded of a saying that he hoped no one would forget on Veterans Day.

"To those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know," he said.

For Hortense Conner, the mother of Brian Conner, that taste is pain. Such ceremonies, she said, "helps take away some of the anger - but just a small bit of it."