This year marks the 51st time Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens has hosted a Memorial Day Ceremony to honor those who have fallen in the line of duty. The ceremony, which include speeches, wreath-laying and a 21-gun salute, will begin at 10 a.m. in Dulaney Valley’s Circle of the Immortals.
The Monday, May 28 ceremony will also include music, in particular the tones of “Amazing Grace,” performed on the bagpipes by piper Robert McCurdy — it will be his 12th year at the ceremony.
“The line of duty, fire, police, the military — that is why I got into piping initally, is to honor our fallen,” said McCurdy, a Pleasant Valley resident. “Just remember that Memorial Day is there to honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Veterans Day is to honor the veterans that are living.”
McCurdy is a retired Baltimore City firefigther and a volunteer firefighter with the Pleasant Valley fire company and first performed at Dulaney Valley in 2007 in honor of Sgt. Brian R. Conner, a member of the Maryland Army National Guard, who was killed in action in Iraq. Conner was also a Baltimore City firefighter.
“The deputy chief in charge of the honor guard at the time had asked the folks down there if I would be able to join in since they were honoing a firefighter as well as his being in the military,” McCurdy said. “They graciously said yes.”
McCurdy has been playing there ever since.
Bagpiping at funerals and memorial services has its roots in the Irish immigration to the United States following the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century, according to McCurdy.
“A lot of places would not hire the Irish. The only jobs they could get were the dangerous jobs: the railroads, the fire and police,” he said. “They brought the tradition of pipes at funerals over with them, and with all the Irish in the fire and police, that’s how the pipes became integrated into the funeral services.”
It was his own Irish heritage that got McCurdy interested in playing the bagpipes. It was in 2004, when as a member of the Fire Brigade Pipes and Drums of Greater Baltimore, that he got his chance as the pipe major began teaching new players.
“I kind of practiced when no one was home initially, becasue it’s like they always say, a bag of cats and all when you are first playing it,” McCurdy said. “Then after you get better the neighbors loved it. I would go over across the street to the ballpark and practice and the neighbors would come out and listen.”
The neighbors understand the deeper reasons for McCurdy’s piping, too, and he said he hopes whether or not people come out to Dulaney Valley to hear him play, they will take a minute to reflect that day.
“Everyone thinks of the sales and the picnics,” he said, “but please take a moment and say a prayer for the families of the members who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom here in the United States.”