Despite living within an hour's drive of the nation's capital, many Carroll County veterans are declining invitations to the dedication of the National World War II Memorial tomorrow to observe the occasion with their comrades in familiar surroundings.
The American Legion Gold Star Post 191 in Mount Airy will mark the dedication with patriotic music, speeches, honors for the post's 200 World War II veterans - with a reading of each of their names - and a 21-gun salute.
The personal touches for the veterans would be lost in the crowd of more than 200,000 expected for the dedication on the National Mall.
"The situation in Washington will be such that the true honorees who obtained tickets for that occasion will be far away from the memorial and the ceremony," said Arthur J. Brett, Mount Airy post adjutant. "Even those in the first section will have to watch the dedication on a large TV screen."
So the post has its own widescreen high-definition television, on loan from a local shop. The crowd - as many as 400 are expected - can watch the service in Washington in the post's reception hall.
"There is great camaraderie and togetherness here," said Brett, a Korean War veteran. "We all help each other. That's what we did in the service."
Geoffrey G. Prosch, acting assistant secretary of the Army, will be one of two speakers at the celebration.
"I am honored to talk to the people of Mount Airy," Prosch said. "I hope to inspire them with history and talk about the sacrifices of soldiers today. I want to remind everybody to reflect on the sacrifices made."
The visit will be Prosch's second to the town that is split between Carroll and Frederick counties. In 2001, he came to Mount Airy to pay tribute to town resident Bill Ruth, a retired chief warrant officer and close friend who died in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon.
"I was really touched by the people of this town and Bill's family," Prosch said.
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican who represents Western Maryland, will also address the crowd about what he calls "a long overdue" tribute to those who fought in World War II.
More than 50,000 of these men and women nationwide were placed on a waiting list for seating at the memorial dedication, according to Lisa Wright, a spokeswoman for Bartlett. The congressman was unsuccessful in his efforts to find more space so honorees could attend.
Edwin Darrah, 76, who joined the Marines in 1945 and spent the next two years in China, received his invitation to tomorrow's service in Washington a few months ago.
"This memorial should have happened 30 years ago at least," he said. "A lot of men have died waiting for it to be built."
The invitation offered him a ticket with a caveat - he would be watching a television screen with thousands of others. He decided on the TV at the post.
"Why bother with the crowd when I can come here to watch with people who have done so much for us?" he said.
Jesse Moxley, 78, said, "I would much rather be here with friends. In Washington, I wouldn't know anybody."
Darrah, Moxley and more than 100 others will have their chance to see the memorial soon. The post has chartered three buses to take veterans, at no cost to them, to Washington on Wednesday for a look at the $107 million monument between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
The granite pillars, towering arches and gold stars surrounding a reflecting pool honor the 400,000 American troops who died in the war and the 16 million who served.
"Support of our armed forces remains strong today," Prosch is expected to tell the Mount Airy group. "That support is a force unto itself, an intangible but priceless resource that never fails to energize our soldiers."
Darrah, who was a Marine at age 17, will make the trip in honor of a brother-in-law, a cousin and an uncle, lost in the war. "My family got hit really hard," he said. "But I do not regret the experience. I grew up fast, learned a lot and saw the world. Nothing can compare to the U.S."
Moxley fought with Patton's 3rd Army in Europe when he was an 18-year-old drafted out of Damascus High School. He is eager to visit the memorial.
"I want to memorialize the dedication of the men who sacrificed so much and especially remember those who didn't come back," Moxley said. "There were 78 ships in my convey, and we lost three of them going over the Atlantic. I just missed the Battle of the Bulge, or I probably wouldn't be here today. I was very lucky that I only was injured in my hand. My best buddy was killed by a German sniper not 15 feet from me."
Hubert Sauter, 81, a Navy veteran whose son works for one of the memorial contractors, has seen the memorial in several stages of construction and will return there with his post friends Wednesday. "It is impressive, emotional, sobering," Sauter said. "It makes you think of all that happened and all that could have happened."
When Sauter joined the Navy in 1942, he said, "There was such a feeling of patriotism and so many people willing to do something. The whole country was behind us."
Prosch said that spirit remains viable today. He knows he will be addressing what many call America's greatest generation, and he plans to tell them that they have inspired many ensuing generations.
"Our current generation has an all-volunteer Army that will give the greatest generation a run for its money," he said.