Wreaths, rifle salutes and speeches about storied military battles lent a somber tone to a sunny, breezy Memorial Day Monday morning at Havre de Grace's Millard Tydings Park, overlooking a Susquehanna River filled with sailboats and other craft.
Havre de Grace's annual salute to the members of the armed forces who died defending their country drew more than 100 people to the hilltop park, as many passersby and those enjoying the park playground also stopped to watch as a bugler played taps and a rifle salute was held.
Harford County Executive and gubernatorial hopeful David Craig, a native son of Havre de Grace and the city's former mayor, was the keynote speaker and was introduced as "governor-elect."
Craig talked about the city's key role in World War I and recalled his childhood in the shadow of two world wars, remembering seeing an American Legion parade growing up.
"I would see people in the parade and the older ones were mostly World War I veterans, " he said. "The younger ones were in their thirties and they were World War II veterans."
Pointing out the park's veterans memorial, Craig said: "We're very fortunate that our predecessors erected this great monument to those great volunteers."
"Since that time we have had numerous people from Havre de Grace in every war make the supreme sacrifice, and I hope at some point we add their names to the monuments," Craig said.
Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty struck a defiant note with his speech, in which he listed the numbers of the dead in every major American war, including the "Korean War" and "Vietnam War" – "and I do call it a 'war,'" he added.
"We owe no country an apology," Dougherty proclaimed. "What do we owe? We owe an apology to our fallen heroes, who are not receiving the respect they should receive from Washington."
He also asked everyone in attendance to walk up to the monuments and touch them.
"I assure you, you will carry those thoughts and emotions for the rest of your life," Dougherty said.
Bud Lilly, commander of American Legion Post 47 in Havre de Grace, which organized the ceremony, said residents can offer veterans "a shoulder to cry on," services and a promise that those lost will not be forgotten.
With the holiday typically marking the start of summer, "let us never lose focus on what Memorial Day really means," Lilly said. "It is not all about beaches, picnics and auto races. It is a day to remember."
Residents who came out for the ceremony, some of whom had no direct connection with the armed forces, said they just wanted to honor those who served.
"It's a tradition," Betty Langley, of Havre de Grace, said about attending the event.
"It's a time to honor all the people fighting from all the wars," she said. "It's important to keep these things going."
She was with Richard and Arlene Thayer, of Port Deposit.
"We are here to show respect for our fighting men and women, living and deceased," Richard Thayer said. "In many cases, these are the forgotten heroes."
Thayer added they "gave us our freedom and sometimes they get lost in the politics, but this is our chance to show our respect."
Sandra Willig, of Aberdeen, said her boyfriend was an American Legion commander and had recently passed away.
"I am here for the veterans," she said, sporting a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
Willig noted she had originally been asked to work Monday.
Latest Harford County
"I said, no way. I wouldn't miss this," she said of the ceremony.