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Veterans honored at ceremonies around Harford Tuesday

Gold Star parents Roy and Virginia Shanklin are escorted by Harford Post 39 Commander Russ Getz as they place a wreath at the Captain H. Merle Bailey statue in Bel Air Memorial Gardens during Tuesday's Veterans Day ceremony.
Gold Star parents Roy and Virginia Shanklin are escorted by Harford Post 39 Commander Russ Getz as they place a wreath at the Captain H. Merle Bailey statue in Bel Air Memorial Gardens during Tuesday's Veterans Day ceremony. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Wally Mueller, past commander of American Legion Post 39 in Bel Air, acknowledged Tuesday that a cemetery is an unusual place to honor living veterans on Veterans Day, but he cited his experience of being among the markers put up at the Bel Air Memorial Gardens to honor area residents who lost their lives fighting overseas.

"That's when it hit me, how lucky I am to be a veteran, especially a combat veteran," Mueller told a group of about 40 people who gathered at the Memorial Gardens for a Veterans Day ceremony hosted by the leaders of Post 39.

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Mueller, who flew Army helicopters during the Vietnam War, said it is important to remember that "we are victors, not victims, and that we've gotten to be veterans."

The afternoon ceremony at Bel Air Memorial Gardens was one of several Veterans Day observances held in Harford County Tuesday.

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Mueller was the master of ceremonies for the Bel Air ceremony, which took place in front of the memorial to Capt. H. Merle Bailey, a bomber pilot who died in World War II. The ceremony included renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" by Army CWO Don Teesdale of Bel Air, who flies UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, and the laying of a wreath at the Bailey memorial.

Russ Getz, commander of Post 39, escorted Gold Star parents Roy and Virginia Shanklin as they laid the wreath.

The Shanklins' son Roy Edward Shanklin died in Vietnam.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Grant Hayden, former commander of the 29th Infantry Division of the National Guard, was the guest speaker.

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Hayden read the names of Bel Air-area residents who died or were listed as missing in action during World War II. They are buried in U.S. cemeteries throughout the world, and there are memorials to them spread throughout Bel Air Memorial Gardens.

Hayden, who retired in 2010 after 40 years of service in the Army, noted that "there are cemeteries all over Europe" where tens of thousands of American service members who died during World War I and World War II are buried.

"The Korean War was when we started bringing our dead home," he said.

Hayden also read the poem "In Flanders Fields," which was written by Canadian Col. John McCrae to honor those who died fighting in the Flanders region of Belgium and France in 1915.

McCrae wrote about the red poppy flowers that were blooming around the graves, and the poppy has since become a symbol to honor those who lost their lives during war – red paper poppies were given out.

"We are the Dead. Short days ago/We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/Loved and were loved, and now we lie/In Flanders fields," McCrae wrote.

"We're not only here to honor the dead, but to honor the living," Hayden said.

Following the Bel Air ceremony, Mueller talked about visiting the cemetery, which he said can be therapeutic when someone is having a tough day.

"It might be tough, but I'm still here to have the day," he said.

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