As many as 2,000 people are expected to converge on the Hanover Street Bridge on Sunday for a ceremony officially renaming the South Baltimore span as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The effort began last fall when a local Vietnam veterans group led by Ed Vogel, chairman of the Memorial Day project, petitioned the City Council for the name change. The bill passed easily and was signed into law by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
The group raised $6,000 to pay for commemorative plaques honoring those who served in the war. The plaques will be placed at each end of the bridge, which opened in 1917.
"I can think of no better way to honor those who served," says John Y. Averella, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, Baltimore Chapter 451. "This is a time of joy for the veterans community."
The bridge is just north of the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Middle Branch Park.
The memorial honoring the 1,046 Marylanders who died in the Vietnam War was dedicated in 1989 after much controversy mainly over where it should be located.
The first site was to be in Federal Hill Park and a groundbreaking was even held there in November 1986.
But residents of the neighborhood complained that the memorial would overwhelm the park. Also, engineers found that extensive work was needed to ensure that erosion did not cause the granite memorial to slide down the hill. After the Federal Hill site was rejected, the memorial was moved twice, once to a small park near Annapolis and then to its current site near Hanover Street.
"At the time, many vets felt that the Federal Hill site was a more central point," Mr. Averella says. "They sort of felt it was the ideal place."
Being relegated to a remote spot in South Baltimore, he said, made veterans of the unpopular war feel pushed aside once again. But over time, he said, the site, situated in a still developing waterfront city park, has grown on many people.
"This is actually turning out to be a beautiful place," he says, adding that the renaming will formalize the bridge as the gateway to the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The ceremony, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, will be full of pomp. There will be a service at the memorial, then participants will march to the bridge for the renaming. Fire boats in the Patapsco River near the bridge will pump streams of water into the air. Three Huey helicopters -- the aircraft that played a major role in military operations in Vietnam -- will fly over in a missing man formation.
Mr. Schmoke and Council President Mary Pat Clarke are scheduled to speak. Some 20 honor guards will be on hand and a gold ribbon will be cut. Mothers of those who perished in Vietnam will help cut it.
Afterward, there will be a reception at the officers' club at Fort Holabird industrial park, the former induction station for many Marylanders drafted during the war.