xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Mother of Baltimore veteran completes mission to find resting place for her son

When Air Force Maj. Gen. Alfred “Buddy” Stewart, a Baltimore native, died at 55 of brain cancer three years ago, his mother, Sandra Stewart, was “devastated” to learn that a technicality would prevent his being inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

Those who knew Air Force Maj. Gen. Alfred “Buddy” Stewart say there was much more to him than the many squadrons he commanded, the decorations he amassed, or the thousands of hours he flew during a stellar 32-year military career.

There were also the subordinates he mentored, the humility he radiated, and the loyalty he always showed for family and friends.

Advertisement

So when Stewart, a Baltimore native, died at 55 of brain cancer three years ago, his mother, Sandra Stewart, was “devastated” to learn that a technicality would prevent his being inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.

“He deserved an appropriate resting place,” she says.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Sandra Stewart, 79, of Randallstown was a star presence when her son found just such a place Saturday.

In a moving Veterans Day ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, a string of speakers celebrated the life of the two-star general as he became the first to be granted a gravesite in a newly established cremations section for veterans

The section, to be known as The Garden of Honor, is to be an extension of the cemetery’s Field of Honor, where more than 3,500 veterans are buried.

General manager Amy Shimp says Dulaney Valley has designed five more dedicated inurnment sites for veterans around Stewart’s, but “we see him as our VIP.”

Advertisement

Alfred J. Stewart struck no one as a future general — let alone a center of controversy — when he was born six weeks premature, weighing a little more than 5 pounds, on March 6, 1959.

The family moved from its hometown near Richmond, Va., to Baltimore a decade later. It wasn’t long before “Buddy,” as he was known, set himself apart as a leader.

His uncle, retired Army Ranger Hughy D. Brown, says Stewart, a catcher on his neighborhood baseball team, quietly ran their games from behind the plate.

“He seemed like he was in the background, but the people who were close to him always knew how much influence he had,” Brown told the crowd of 60 gathered in the cemetery chapel.

Stewart was 15 when he decided he wanted to follow a family tradition of military service and become an airman. He graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1977, was admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy at 18, graduated in 1981, and went on to climb the ranks with unusual speed.

Eventually assigned to command-level positions posts in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and leading everything from an air refueling squadron to worldwide operations at the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base in San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, he earned so many decorations — including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Order of the Sword — that Dulaney Valley had to commission an unusually large marker for his inurnment site.

Stewart’s lifelong friend, Tony Newton, said it was less the general’s rank than his qualities — trustworthiness, tenacity and gentleness — that set him apart.

Newton said his friend derived those qualities from his mother, a woman who taught Buddy and his sisters that they could achieve anything, so long as they were willing to work hard enough to achieve it.

The last three years of her life have been a case in point.

After Stewart died — he became ill in Texas and died in 2014 — she assumed he’d qualify for burial at Arlington but learned it’s against that cemetery’s policy to accept partial remains.

When Stewart was cremated, half his ashes were given to his widow in San Antonio, the other half to his mother.

She contacted the offices of U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin. When Arlington rebuffed their efforts, she worked her way up the ladder, enlisting the help of her son’s former commanding officer, Stephen R. Lorenz, a retired four-star Air Force general, then the military liaison for then-Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama.

Even after all were turned down, she remained determined not to have her son inurned in an “ordinary” cemetery. “He wasn’t ordinary,” she says.

Last May, she saw a news item about the Memorial Day service at Dulaney Valley and contacted its family service adviser, George Pecsek, the next day.

Cemetery management was so impressed, Shimp says, that they offered to inurn Stewart’s ashes free of charge if the family would help them inaugurate the new section on Veterans Day.

Stewart’s ashes will be inurned at a later date.

That, Sandra Stewart said, represents an even better outcome than Arlington would have been, and a suitable end to a three-year mission.

“I was not going to settle — not for him,” she said after the service. “This is providence. My son is home now.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement