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At Dulaney Valley, families honor fallen soldiers by telling their stories

At Dulaney Valley, families honor fallen soldiers by telling their stories
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as spectators, observe the Memorial Day celebration at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium on Monday. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

She comes every year to this peaceful spot with the towering trees and the two stone eagles, and the breeze that one might imagine was her husband's last breath — the Circle of Immortals at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, where Oliver Clifton Stamps lies.

Every year, Attrice Stamps, now a petite 75-year-old grandmother, buys flowers and then, in the last-minute rush, she always forgets to bring them. So it made her smile Monday that someone — she doesn't know who — laid a single red carnation across her husband's grave.

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Sgt. Oliver Stamps died in the Vietnam War on Jan. 8, 1970, less than three weeks before his 32nd birthday. He left behind a 5-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old son, and a 6-week-old baby boy.

"I still have his uniform," Attrice Stamps said.

Her favorite part of the cemetery's Memorial Day ceremony is when the military band plays a medley of patriotic songs, from "Wild Blue Yonder" for the Army Air Corps to "Anchors Aweigh" for the Navy. Veterans of each branch of the service rise to applause, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes but all standing straight.

When it's time for the Marines song, "The Halls of Montezuma," Attrice Stamps hums along for her husband.

This year, most of the 1,500 chairs for the ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens were filled, and other participants either stood or sat on the grass. There was the traditional presentation of the color guard, a three-gun salute, the wreath-laying ceremony, and taps sounded by a single, mournful bugle.

Speakers included master of ceremonies (and Republican mayoral nominee) Alan Walden, Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger and former Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who represented Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

There was a moment of silence honoring two service members from Maryland who recently died: Airman 1st Class Nathaniel H. McDavitt of Glen Burnie, who was killed April 15 in Jordan when a building collapsed; and Pfc. Victor J. Stanfill of Fulton, who died May 10 during a training exercise while serving with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Polk, La.

Cemetery officials said that out of respect for the families, formal recognition for McDavitt and Stanfill has been postponed until the 2017 Memorial Day service.

Walden, who drew the comparison between Monday's breeze and a soldier's final breath, told the crowd that such tragedies leave him with little patience with those for whom Memorial Day represents just the start of summer.

"This is our most solemn national holiday," Walden said. "It is a day of remembrance. They wrote a check payable with their lives to the United States of America and signed it with their blood."

In his keynote address, Capt. Christian Maisel of Maryland Army National Guard suggested that perhaps the best way of honoring those who have fallen is by talking about them.

"The thousands of stories I heard inspired me," he said. "I would challenge you all to share your stories to the next generation. I can't think of a better way to honor their sacrifice."

It was in that spirit that Attrice Stamps shared her story:

She was 20 years old when she met a handsome young soldier At a friend's wedding on June 5, 1960. Later that day, Oliver Stamps told a buddy that he'd just met the woman he would marry.

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"He smelled like collard greens," Attrice Stamps said, and laughed.

Nonetheless, she married him a year later — on the Fourth of July 1961.

Nearly nine years later, Sergeant Stamps was leading his platoon on combat patrol in South Vietnam in early 1970 when one of his Marines discovered an unexploded booby trap.

It couldn't safely be disarmed, and Stamps didn't want another platoon to accidentally stumble across it. So, he moved his men to safety and attempted to detonate the device himself.

"It was the strangest thing," Attrice Stamps recalled. "I was sleeping when he got hurt. I didn't know anything bad had happened. But the next day I was at Fort Holabird when something came over me in a wave. I suddenly got sick and couldn't find my way out.

"I found out later that's the time he died."

Sgt. Oliver Stamps was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.

"You can't relive yesterday," Attrice Stamps said. "But the memories remain."

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