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Crowd remembers the fallen at 50th Memorial Day ceremony at Dulaney

Devin Bartolotta reports

It has been nearly half a century since Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Albert Barthelme volunteered to fly a U.S. military helicopter into a remote area in Kon Tum province, Vietnam.

The Vietcong had overrun the region and surrounded an encampment of American soldiers. Barthelme, 21, of Towson, was flying in a team of reinforcements.

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He was killed in an ambush. His remains were buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium weeks later.

And on Monday, his brother Patrick stood over his grave in the Ring of Fallen Heroes and did what he has done every Memorial Day since 1970: paid his respects to the man who had been his childhood idol.

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"I'm here to remember and honor Al," said Patrick J. Barthelme of Lutherville, 65, shortly after the end of the 50th Memorial Day ceremony at the Baltimore County cemetery.

Remembering and honoring were key themes for the hundreds who braved overcast skies — and an intermittent drizzle — to salute Marylanders who have been killed during military service.

Former broadcast journalist Alan Walden, serving as master of ceremonies for the 27th time, started the event by reflecting on what he sees as the distinction between the cultural meaning Memorial Day has taken on and its true significance.

"I've seen [signs] that say 'Happy Memorial Day,'" Walden said. "What's wrong with that picture? Yes it's happy. It's the unofficial beginning of the summer season. But it is a solemn day. It is a day to remember — and this number is staggering — the one and a half million men and women who have given their lives in service to this country."

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In somber tones, Walden described these men and women as "our best and brightest," who "sacrificed without selfishiness" and "showed valor without vanity" and "courage without conceit" as they "gave us everything."

Walden introduced the event's keynote speaker, Cockeysville native G. Reid Wiseman, now a Navy commander and NASA astronaut and who spent six months aboard the International Space Station in 2014.

Dressed in officer's whites, the 1993 graduate of Dulaney Valley High School described the experience of seeing the United States from a "low orbit" height of 250 miles as the space station circled the globe every 90 minutes.

The journey, he said, gave him a chance to take note of the mountains, deserts and forests that make up the nation he described as an "amazing place" — and eventually to see the sites of historic battles the U.S. military has fought in places as far afield as Iwo Jima, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Viewing the site of the 1944 D-Day invasion, Weisman said, was an emotional experience.

"It looks like you could skip a stone across the English Channel, it's so tiny," he said. "I thought of all the crosses that are on that beach there looking out over the channel, and it made me tear up."

He thanked "those who served and are no longer with us. ... Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we could be here, enjoying this Maryland morning, enjoying the mist, enjoying each other's company."

Weisman also thanked by name the day's central honorees, the four Marylanders who lost their lives while serving in the military in the past 14 months: Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathaniel H. McDavitt of Severna Park, 22, who died in a building collapse in Jordan in April 2016; Army Private 1st Class Victor J. Stanfill of Fulton, 19, who was killed during a live-fire training exercise with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Polk, La., last May; Army Staff Sgt. Adam S. Thomas of Takoma Park, 31, a Special Forces soldier who was killed in a bomb attack in Afghanistan in October, and Army Sgt. 1st Class Allan E. Brown, 46, of Takoma Park, who died of wounds suffered in a suicide bomb attack at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in December.

Members of McDavitt's and Brown's families were present to accept commemorations.

The names of all 32 men already buried at the site were then read aloud in an annual roll call.

After the speakers had finished, members of the Maryland National Guard fired a 21-gun salute from the top of a nearby hill, and the audience dispersed into a still overcast afternoon.

Barthelme lingered a while along with his wife, Mary Ellen, his sister-in-law, Cathy, and his 17-month-old grandson, Nolan Miller, and remembered his brother, a young man he said was a top athlete and an "all-American kind of guy" who made a success of everything he touched.

For years, he said, his brother's death felt more like a "terrible waste" than anything, particularly given the distaste with which many Americans came to view members of the military during the Vietnam War.

But the passage of time — and hearing Al's name read as part of the roll call every May — gradually helped put his death in a less painful perspective.

"They've kept the memory alive at Dulaney Valley for going on 50 years," he said. "My family is so thankful for that effort. I have to say I've found room to be proud."

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