Burton on the Bay:
At Long Last --
Maryland's WWII Heroes Remembered
I never knew A. Theodore Abbott, whose name was first in the long list of 6,454 that ended with John J. Zumbo. Somewhere in the middle was Charles J. Kuhlmann Jr. I didn't know him either.
Under the B's were Burtons I never met - Charles F., Filmore Ernest, Luther Lee and Robert W. - who could be distant relatives.
All those names from Abbott to Zumbo had one thing in common. They were Marylanders who lost their lives in World War II. Now their names are engraved on slabs of gray granite on Route 450 overlooking the Severn River at Annapolis.
Long Time Coming
It took a long time in coming, this official tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the biggest war of them all. It ended on Sept. 5, 1945, almost 53 years ago, and those who rest from Burma to Berlin as well as those brought home deserve permanent recognition from us who live free because they answered the call.
The official dedication of Maryland's World War II Memorial July 23 came too late for many relatives of those honored and many who served with them in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, Air Corps or Merchant Marine.
Two thousand citizens, among them three former governors, the incumbent, relatives of the honored and several hundred WW II veterans paid their respects in a solemn and dignified ceremony. Tears flowed freely, yet it was upbeat. Now, the 6,454 have a tangible reminder of their service. Veterans -including this Navy Seabee from Vermont - are gratified.
The dedication gave survivors the final opportunity to pay tribute to comrades who didn't make it back. It came too late for many thousands of Maryland warriors who went to their graves since the war, men and women who fretted and wondered why their state and nation never got around to creating a monument as a lasting thank you for those who gave their lives in the Big One.
Now Maryland has its monument, and the nation is preparing plans for its grand national memorial in Washington. Then, the rapidly diminishing numbers of WW II vets can put their minds at ease. It isn't recognition for themselves they want; they were fortunate enough to come home. They just don't want the others forgotten.
Each day, 1,300 World War II vets die; that's nearly a half million a year.
One way to appreciate freedom is to know the sacrifices that make freedom possible. A way to stop wars is to make visible the ugly reality of war, and that was foremost in the minds of the veterans at the dedication. They know those names chiseled in the monument are forceful, everlasting reminders of real people who made possible what we have today.
Forty-eight granite pillars nine feet tall make up this memorial, which can best be described as a four-sided open-air amphitheater. Those pillars represent the 48 states at the time of the war; fittingly the flag raised over the entrance had 48 stars.
One Among 6,454
Will Johnson, who now lives near Harrisburg, Pa., was one of those who crossed the Atlantic, did so in a troop transport, and spent some time in England. Then on June 6, 1944, he made another crossing. This time it was the English Channel.
When after the formal dedication I encountered Will, now 75, he was scanning the J's cut from the granite, and there were a lot of them. He squinted, rubbed his hands on some of the impressions, and I asked if I could help. After all, I'm a tad over three years younger.
"I hate to tell you, it ain't easy to admit, but I really don't even know the last name exactly," he said. "All I can remember is 'Stan J' or something"
"Friend or relative?" I asked.
"A foxhole buddy," he answered. He looked at me, his eyes were wet, but he wasn't embarrassed. A lot of wet eyes were on faces all around us. Big tears rolled down some cheeks, but everyone maintained composure. It was mourning with dignity and grace, which comes after more than 50 years of wondering and waiting.
"I don't even know if he was from Maryland," said Will. "I didn't know him that long. He was a fresh replacement " And Will looked off past my shoulder.
"He came early in the morning, shared my foxhole, but had no chance to talk. He whispered his name, Stan, and the last name was Polish, began with a J. I whispered back to stay low. That night we could get acquainted, but he didn't live that long.
"A German rifleman got him; he was my second foxhole mate to go in five days. He got it in the face; the first got mortar in the back. He wasn't from Maryland, he came from Pennsylvania - his name was Harry and he had a wife and two kids. I talked to his family when I got back, but I've always wondered about Stan."
Will was with the famed 29th Division, National Guardsmen who became professional soldiers. They swept across France, then found things tougher in Germany, but kept heading toward Berlin. Along the way, they lost a lot of men, and among them was a list of names Will could reel off. He intended to look them up on the granite slabs before his daughter drove him home.
She was checking some for him a couple of slabs down. "I'll feel better when I see them for myself," said Will as he pointed his cane to the inscriptions. "But I'd like to find Stan."
Whether Stan was listed will probably never be known by Will. Stan could have been from anywhere; by the time he joined Will at the front, he was a replacement.
The 29th, which started out with Marylanders and others from Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, had a distressing casualty rate, 204.2 percent. It was among the very first to touch French soil on D-Day, June 6, and by the time it was over, more than two men went down for each original warrior. Some 20,000 were battle casualties.
I helped Will scan the J's until his daughter joined us. She read them aloud, and he shook his head after each name. My eyes were as wet as his when I moved on.
Sen. Bob Dole of the Tenth Mountain Division, himself painfully crippled in Italy (after shipping overseas from Maryland), paid an emotional, heartfelt tribute; the eyes of William Donald Schaefer moistened visibly when he talked about three friends whose names he found on the granite; Marvin Mandel waxed patriotic as he criticized those who take freedom for granted; and many others, including former Gov. Harry Hughes, praised those who lived and died in the Big One.
As taps played mournfully, I thought of Louis Goldstein, a Marine who served in the Pacific and was among the originals who pushed for the Maryland memorial until he died earlier this month. He would have summed it up appropriately: "God bless 'em all real good." Enough said ...
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VolumeVI Number 30
July 30 - August 5, 1998
New Bay Times
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