In the heat of the summer morning, long before the crowds arrived or the American flag was ceremoniously raised, a lone veteran stood yesterday before a sea of gray granite, reverently touching three names.
Then he cried.
The names, etched in stone, were Neil Weldon, a young man killed during one of the first skirmishes of World War II. Sam Offutt, a hard-fighting Maryland soldier who died on another bloody day of conflict. And David Marriott, who hadn't yet seen his 25th birthday when he survived life-threatening wounds, was nursed back to health and returned to the battlefield to die five days later.
The somber veteran standing before the massive blocks of granite was William Donald Schaefer, and his tears were for three men whose names have haunted him for half a century.
"All these years, those names have been in my mind," said the former Maryland governor. "To finally see them, memorialized in stone, truly, truly moves me."
During his private moment of mourning, Schaefer was not a former governor, was not a longtime policy-maker who had proposed an official state World War II monument. In this moment, he was simply a surviving witness to the brutalities of the war.
"This is a solemn day, a sad day and a wonderful day, all at the same time," Schaefer said later as he addressed the hundreds who gathered to dedicate the memorial, a $3 million, four-sided amphitheater on a grassy vista overlooking Annapolis and the Naval Academy.
The morning's ceremony was the kind that makes grown men cry. Not cry quietly, but sob, resting their faces in their hands as their shoulders shake.
Gathered before the memorial were men in shining medals whose faces shed decades when they saluted one another. Men who prayed along with the military chaplain and remembered hiding in foxholes praying they would make it home. Men who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" aloud.
These were men who loved former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole's moving dedication speech not because they had voted for him last election, but because they respected the fact that his right arm will never again work properly because of wartime injuries that almost claimed his life.
And these were men who talked about the late Louie L. Goldstein, God blessing him real good, not because he had been a dedicated state official for six decades, but because he had been a uniformed American soldier who once bravely fought abroad.
"We veterans, no matter where we fought or when we came home, have a lot in common," Schaefer said.
In his speech, Dole criticized a nation that has waited more than 50 years to build a national World War II monument on the Mall in Washington.
"The absence of that monument is the unfinished business of World War II," he said.
And former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel criticized a nation that increasingly takes freedom for granted.
"Back then, service was not an obligation," he said, "it was an honor. And we've lost some of that today."
The dedication was complete with the pomp and circumstance of a formal military event. Presentation of colors. A 21-gun salute. A Maryland Air National Guard flyover. A solitary soldier playing "Taps."
When it was all over, when the crowds were gone and the monument stood empty, it seemed that perhaps Maj. Gen. Edwin Warfield III had said it best:
"It was the greatest and most horrible event in the history of the world."
Pub Date: 7/24/98