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Bel Air ceremony honors the American Flag on D-Day

Bel Air's annual Flag Day ceremony on Saturday morning provided an opportunity to commemorate a special anniversary for the defense of all the flag holds dear to generations of Americans.

More than 100 people gathered in Shamrock Park for the brief, but moving ceremony on the 71st anniversary of the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy, France, that began the liberation of Europe from the forces of Nazi Germany in World War II.

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The ceremony featured a traditional flag raising with a bugler playing "To the Colors," followed by the Star Spangled Banner played by the Aberdeen Middle School Band. Saturday's color guard included members of American Legion Post 39 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 30, both in Bel Air.

Renditions of other patriotic songs were performed by the band, under the direction of Sue Hopkins, and by the Bel Air High School Chorus, under the direction of Terri Mathews. Samuel B. Fielder Jr., of Forest Hill, a Korean War veteran, read his poem "The Flag."

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Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan, Saturday's master of ceremonies and a colonel in the Maryland Defense Force, recalled that General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the planning for D-Day, likened the invasion to a crusade and said, "We will accept nothing less than full victory."

Speaking from the stage of the William A. Humbert Amphitheater, McMahan said it was a wonderful coincidence that this year's Flag Day observance in Bel Air, which is held on the first Saturday in June, rather than the traditional June 14, so more students can participate, fell on D-Day.

More than 160,000 United States and other Allied troops landed on the heavily fortified 50-mile stretch of the French coast, supported by 5,000 ships and more than 13,000 aircraft, McMahan said.

"The cost was high," he continued, noting that more than 9,000 of those troops were killed or wounded, among them soldiers, sailors and airmen from Maryland and Harford County. But the fighting culminated in the beachhead being established that enabled the Allies to begin what McMahan called "the slow slog across Europe" and eventual victory when Germany surrendered in May 1945.

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Seated in the audience, just below the stage, was Army Captain Robert "Bob" Smith, a Bel Air resident, whom McMahan recognized to a hearty round of applause from those on the stage and in the audience.

Smith, 95, landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. He received two Silver Stars and one Bronze Star during his World War II service. He recalled how his unit's next objective, the capture of Cherbourg, about 33 miles north of the landing, took 18 days, not three days as the invasion planners had expected.

Following the ceremony, many people stopped to shake Smith's hand and thank him for his service, among them Noah Courtney, a member of the chorus.

Noah graduated with the BAHS Class of 2015 on Wednesday, but still joined his choral group to participate in Flag Day. He said he will attend Marion Military Institute in Alabama for a year and then will join the Coast Guard. He said it was an honor to shake Smith's hand.

During his remarks, McMahan asked all the veterans, "the heroes who live among us," to stand and be recognized.

In tracing the history of the flag and what it means to the nation, he concluded his remarks by saying: "It is the most beautiful flag I have ever seen. I have seen it in morning rays of the sun, as sleepy-eyed troops fall in for PT; I have seen it through the mist and rain of mountain passes; I have seen it clusters of bivouac encampments during summer camps for training.

"I have seen it at retreat with the radiant beams of twilight embracing her with an exquisite beauty, as the roar of a cannon followed by taps completes a soldier's day; I have seen it draped over the caskets of fallen friends; and, I have seen it folded and placed in the mourning arms of a wife or mother.

"I have seen it in many places, but never have I seen it as beautiful as it is today."

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