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Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, Towson American Legion adjust Memorial Day plans amid coronavirus pandemic

In more typical times, the Memorial Day service at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens would draw around 1,500 visitors saluting those in the armed forces who gave their lives defending the United States.

For the 53rd Memorial Day ceremony, and with gatherings of 10 more people still prohibited in Baltimore County, the grounds will remain mostly empty in Timonium, as the cemetery pivots to a virtual ceremony, honoring five service members with Maryland ties who died while serving in the past 14 months with a prerecorded tribute video on its Facebook page and website.

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While the Memorial Gardens will continue its tradition of placing 3,500 U.S. flags on the graves of veterans buried in the Field of Honor, it will be the grounds staff placing the flags this May 25 instead of the local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops and the Elkridge Young Marines.

The tribute video will retain hallmarks of past Memorial Day services. It will feature a prerecorded virtual ceremony in which colors will be presented and a memorial wreath lain at the Circle of the Immortals, an area of the Memorial Gardens dedicated in 1967 for Marylanders killed in action.

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“We encourage people to remember the true meaning of the day and pause to reflect on the dedication of the military personnel who have died serving our country,” Jack Mitchell, president of Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, said in a statement.

Those honored in the tribute video “will not be forgotten and will be honored publicly at the 2021 Memorial Day ceremony,” Mitchell said.

The video will recognize:

Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, U.S. Marine Corps, 43, died April 8, 2019. The staff sergeant was one of three Marines struck and killed by a roadside bomb during a convoy near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. In addition to his service as a Marine reservist, Christopher Slutman was a firefighter both in Maryland and in New York City. In 2014, he received a medal for pulling an unconscious woman from a high-rise fire in the Bronx.

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1st Lt. Hugh C. McDowell, U.S. Marine Corps, 24, died May 9, 2019, from injuries sustained in a training exercise when his light armored vehicle rolled over at Camp Pendleton in California. McDowell was able to shout a warning as the vehicle began to flip and saved the gunner in the twin turret on his left, quickly pushing the corporal down into the safety of the heavy armor. Six fellow Marines survived the accident with nonserious injuries. Lt. McDowell, a decorated platoon commander, was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Chevy Chase.

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, U.S. Navy, 23, died Dec. 6, 2019, one of three victims in the Naval Air Station Pensacola shooting. Watson’s heroic actions at the time of the shooting saved countless lives. Watson was shot multiple times, but made it outside to flag down first responders and provide a description and location of the shooter. A recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he received his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy with a degree in mechanical engineering and was training to be a Navy pilot.

Capt. Moises A. Navas, U.S. Marine Corps, 34, was one of two Marines killed by enemy forces during a U.S.-led operation on March 8, 2020, supporting Iraqi security forces in a raid to destroy an Islamic State hideout in a mountainous area near the town of Makhmour. These deaths were the first American combat fatalities in the country in 2020. Navas, a highly decorated Marine, was a special operations officer who grew up in Germantown and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004. He supported two unit deployments to Japan before becoming a Marine raider in 2016; he deployed to Iraq multiple times.

Sgt. 1st Class John David Randolph Hilty, U.S. Army, 44, died in Iraq on March 30, 2020, in a noncombat incident. Hilty, who was from Bowie, was supporting a U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State in the Iraqi city Erbil. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. Hilty joined the Army in April 1999 as a combat engineer and most recently served as a petroleum supply specialist. The highly decorated soldier was deployed to Afghanistan three times before starting his most recent deployment to Iraq in October 2019.

The American Legion Towson Post 22 will continue its tradition of laying wreaths on Sunday, May 24, at the Wayside Cross, at York Road and Shealy Avenue, which bears the names of more than 200 people who served in World War I, and at the monument at the Historic Courthouse in Towson that honors Baltimore County soldiers who died during service in Iraq and Afghanistan during Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Spectators, however, are asked not to attend. The American Legion is encouraging Americans to pause for one minute at 3 p.m. on May 25 to observe the National Moment of Remembrance in honor of those who have died in military service.

To maintain social distancing measures and keep attendance at fewer than 10 people, the local Elks Lodge will follow the Towson American Legion and place a memorial wreath at the Wayside Cross at 2 p.m.

The Towson American Legion and Boy Scouts Troop 828 will place 700 U.S. flags over Memorial Day weekend at a dozen cemeteries throughout Baltimore County.

“We want to remember them,” said Anita Stewart-Hammerer, commander of the Towson American Legion. “Especially this Memorial Day. … We want them to know we have not forgotten those who have lost their lives in service.”

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