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‘Our heads are not turned the other way’: Carroll countians honor Memorial Day with small, virtual ceremonies

From left, Kevin Dayhoff and Walter Groomes place flags at the Carroll County Vietnam Veterans Memorial before a small, closed to the public prayer ceremony on Memorial Day.
From left, Kevin Dayhoff and Walter Groomes place flags at the Carroll County Vietnam Veterans Memorial before a small, closed to the public prayer ceremony on Memorial Day. (Catalina Righter)

In the city of Westminster, the Memorial Day Commemoration Parade is considered by many to be one of oldest continuous observances in the U.S. after 153 years.

Though the parade was canceled for safety reasons amid the coronavirus pandemic, a very small group was given approval to walk the route, unannounced to the public, in order to maintain the observance this year.

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Throughout Carroll County, people participated in Memorial Day tributes both small and virtual.

The American Legion Carroll Post 31, which hosts the parade, and the Community Media Center partnered to present a Memorial Day Observance Ceremony that was broadcast Monday morning. Paul J. Emmert Sr. past commander, Carroll Post 31 and Memorial Day ceremonies chairman gave remarks and Chaplain Phil Luster gave a blessing. Others sent in videos of their own remembrances and Carroll County students sent in artwork.

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The video can be found online at www.carrollcountymd.gov.

The first Memorial Day parade in Westminster took place in 1868.

The small walking group continuing on the tradition Monday finished at the Carroll County Vietnam Veterans Memorial to read out the names etched in stone there and shared prayers while the bells of Church of the Ascension rang at noon. At the end, Dave Miller of the Westminster Municipal Band played “Taps.”

A small group of elected officials, veterans, and members of the Municipal Band gathered for an unannounced prayer ceremony Monday, May 25 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after walking the route of the traditional parade.
A small group of elected officials, veterans, and members of the Municipal Band gathered for an unannounced prayer ceremony Monday, May 25 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after walking the route of the traditional parade. (Catalina Righter)

“It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t do something,” Vietnam veteran Walter Groomes said.

Nickie Stephens spoke in honor of her father, Rick Will, a Vietnam veteran himself who was instrumental in establishing the memorial in Westminster. She has powerful memories of the families of the men now memorialized on the center stone writing letters and visiting her father to share their stories and photos of their loved one.

Across Westminster, a group of friends gathered to run and walk a 5K on the track at Winters Mill High School. Across the United States, the running community “run to remember: wear blue” holds runs to honor military members, veterans and Gold Star families.

Each of the runners and walkers in Westminster wore a sign to represent a soldier who was killed in the line of duty and several walked with flags.

Georgia Hornberger runs during a small Memorial Day 5k in Westminster Monday, May 25.
Georgia Hornberger runs during a small Memorial Day 5k in Westminster Monday, May 25. (Catalina Righter)

Mary Hill, who helped organize the group, ran in honor of Capt. Jesse Melton III, of Randallstown. After she began participating in run to remember events, she had to opportunity to meet Melton’s mother, and she promised that she would run in his honor each time.

Memorial Day remembrances are important to her, because it “hits home for everybody,” she said. Many people know or are related to a veteran or active duty member of the military. Her own husband is active duty Air Force.

Maj. Joshua Walker is an ROTC instructor at McDaniel College, and this spring once again saw several of his students commissioned. On Monday, he ran in honor of SPC Curtis Mehrer, as well as his own friends who were killed in active duty.

A group gathered to walk and run the track at Winters Mill High School in honor of veterans and service members Monday, May 25. They paused to pray beforehand.
A group gathered to walk and run the track at Winters Mill High School in honor of veterans and service members Monday, May 25. They paused to pray beforehand. (Catalina Righter)

In Mount Airy, small groups gathered at a distance on Main Street for a ceremony. Navy veterans Marissa Johnson and Council President Larry Hushour spoke.

“We are I think fortunate in some ways to have a single year where, as a nation, our heads are not turned the other way, heading distractions instead of remembering the significance of what the day means to those who sacrificed, those who served alongside them, and those families who survive them," Johnson said. “Behind it all, Memorial Day is about the selfless sacrifice of American heroes who raised their right hands to say, ‘It is I who will defend America and if needed lay down my life for my country.’ "

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Hushour shared the town’s tie to the history of poppies as a symbol of Memorial Day. Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D., who wrote “In Flanders Fields," the poem that inspired the symbolism, worked in Mount Airy at The Garrett Sanitarium.

Across Carroll County, many towns turned to virtual ceremonies as a way to connect and remember on Memorial Day.

The town of Hampstead wrote in a Memorial Day message, “It is important to Hampstead’s history and who we are as a Town today that the War Memorial occupies a central place in our town and links us to the memory of those who have served from our community.”

In a video at the town’s veterans memorial, Sykesville Mayor Ian Shaw said, “I’m just so grateful to remember all those veterans who gave all and sacrificed so much so that we could be free today.”

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