CHESTERTOWN — It has long been a tradition in Kent County to commemorate Memorial Day, that day set aside to honor servicemen and women who have passed away, by paying tribute to a late veteran who lived here.
But Memorial Day in Kent County will have a different look in 2020 — no parade, inspiring speeches or graveside tributes, according to American Legion posts in Chestertown, Rock Hall and Betterton.
Though Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order was lifted last week, loosening restrictions on outdoor gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was not enough turnaround time for small veterans organizations, like those in Kent, to put together Memorial Day programs, said Bill Blake of Betterton Post 246.
Local veterans are not being overlooked, however.
The Sgt. Preston Ashley post in Rock Hall on Saturday, May 16 placed small American flags at the graves of veterans buried at Old St. Paul’s Kent, near Chestertown, St. John’s Catholic Church and Wesley Chapel cemeteries in Rock Hall, the Edesville cemetery and Aaron Chapel Cemetery near Sharptown. More than 850 graves were marked, said Larry Crouch, Kent County’s commander of the American Legion.
Crouch, who is a member of Sgt. Preston Ashley Post 228, headed up the effort. He is a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, receiving a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.
Over the last 10 years, Kent County has paid tribute to veterans of wars long a part of history and those not so far in the past. Some honorees were killed in combat or otherwise gave their life while in active service. Others returned home from war and became pillars of the community.
In last year’s keynote address, Crouch said more than 1 million servicemen and women since the American Revolution “made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live a better life.”
Looking back to the 2010 Memorial Day ceremony, the honoree was a man who served in the earliest war — the Great War, World War I — among those recognized in the past decade.
Sgt. Frank M. Jarman, the namesake for American Legion Post 36, grew up on Chestertown’s High Street and served in World War I, as did his two brothers and their father. While serving in France, Jarman contracted tuberculosis and died in Asheville, N.C. on Jan. 15 1920, while still on active duty, after about a year in hospitals.
“We honor the memory of those who gave their lives in the service of our country, and of those others who have dropped their burdens by the wayside of life and are gone to their eternal rest,” said Jack Diller, an Army veteran of the Korean War, at the 2010 ceremony. “May the ceremony today deepen your reverence for our dead.”
Fellow veterans of Korea were honored in 2015 and 2017.
First was Robert A. Moore, who served stateside during the conflict as a military policeman. He passed away in 2011 at 77 years old after a long battle with cancer. A former Kennedyville neighbor — Wayne Gilchrest, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War — celebrated Moore at the 2015 ceremony, remembering him as a man who sought to help make his community better.
“Bob Moore has found a place in history. Bob Moore has found a place in our hearts,” Gilchrest said.
Sgt. William Thomas Brown, remembered at the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony, served in the U.S. Air Force. He was honorably discharged in 1955. He went on to become a waterman, but died in 1989 at the age of 58 of complications from rheumatic fever.
Les Joiner described Brown as his “brother.” He remembered his friend as “very gentle and loving.”
The youngest honoree in the last 10 years also was a veteran of one of the most recent wars. Nick Spry had recently turned 19, was less than a year out of high school and had been in Iraq for just over a month when he was killed near Baghdad in 2004. He was among the younger fallen servicemen honored at Memorial Day ceremonies in 2018.
“We must never forget the sacrifice of our fallen,” said Capt. Stefanie Culp, who graduated from Kent County High School two years behind Spry and currently serves in the Air Force, at the 2018 ceremony. “Our nation called, they answered. Prove to them that we are truly a grateful nation.”
In another ceremony that year at Chestertown’s Monument Park, a bronze plaque was dedicated to the five Kent County men killed in Vietnam: Spec 4 Raymond Lester Elliott Jr., 20, of Chestertown; PFC Robert Julian Davis Jr., 20, of Galena; PFC Virgil Henry Wilson Jr., 20, of Golts; Sgt. Carl Joseph Crew, 21, of Betterton; and Capt. Clarence Matthews Newcomb, 37, of Chestertown.
For Rock Hall resident and Vietnam veteran Emerson Cotton, the 2018 ceremony in Monument Park was tear-jerking, punctuated by the performance of taps by the Kent County Community Marching Band as part of the preceding Memorial Day parade.
“No matter how many times they play taps, it just tears me to pieces,” he said following the ceremony.
PFC Lawrence R. “Larry” McGinnis was another honoree in the last 10 years who served in Vietnam. McGinnis, honored in 2016, survived life-threatening injuries sustained in an ambush. He died young though, just 37 years old, when he fell from a boat into the Chesapeake Bay in 1983.
“We gather today not to mourn, but to honor,” said Michael Smigiel, a Marine Corps veteran and former delegate, at the 2016 ceremony. “We honor these patriots when we say ‘thank you,’ when we keep our promise to care for and provide for them and their families, when we place our hand over our heart or salute.”
The World War II veterans honored in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 returned home from the front.
Honored in 2011, Lemuel R. McGinnis died two years earlier. During the war, he was in the second wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. A member of the National Guard, his was reportedly the only unit to be a part of the historic invasion.
He returned home and made his career as Kent County’s director of environmental health.
“He never thought of himself as a hero, but he was. He believed in doing good works quietly,” said keynote speaker Jack Bigelow.
John Elwood Barnes Jr., honored in 2012, died in 2008. He was 84 years old. Having grown up Chestertown, he graduated from Washington College in 1947. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and served in the Pacific theater.
“No matter what individual opinions may be, it is imperative that each of us show our respect for the members of our military who fought and to remember the sacrifice made by each,” said keynote speaker Walt Coryell, who served in the Maryland Army National Guard and Maryland Air National Guard, that year.
Ernest Cookerly, honored in 2013, was drafted in 1941 and served in Panama and the southwest Pacific. He was discharged in 1946, but remained in the Reserves. Upon his return to Kent County, he attended Washington College, McDaniel College, which was called Western Maryland College at the time, and the University of Maryland School of Law.
Cookerly built a successful law firm in Chestertown. He died in 2010, just 10 days after turning 93.
“He had it all and he gave it his all. He worked tirelessly and selflessly so we could have a better life. He every bit represents that greatest generation of people that helped to take care of all of us,” said son Richard Cookerly, who followed his father’s footsteps into law, at the ceremony.
David A. Bramble, honored in 2014, flew more than two dozen combat missions during World War II in the European theater. In his five years in the Army Air Force, he rose to the rank of major. He left the service in 1947 and returned to Kent County where he founded the road-building company that bears his name. Born in 1918, he passed away in 2004.
“He was one of the lucky ones. Even after he was called to war and asked to put his life on the line day after day, he somehow managed to return home,” said Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian at the 2014 ceremony. “Cemeteries all over this country and around the world are filled with veterans who gave their lives for our freedom.
Honored in 2019 Pvt. Bernard Elburn had just celebrated his 23rd birthday nine days earlier when he was mortally wounded in 1943 during World War II in north Africa.
The youngest of three sons, he grew up to be a waterman, living in Piney Neck. A member of the National Guard, he was called to active duty following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sgt. Preston Ashley, the namesake of the American Legion post in Rock Hall, was killed in north Africa two months after Elburn.
Both men were close in age and grew up near each other.
“They now share a history and are eternally linked in a cemetery thousands of miles from home,” Crouch said of Elburn and Ashley last year.
Speaking at the 2012 ceremony, Coryell summed up the legacy of America’s armed forces as having been, for more than 200 years, “the surest guarantee that freedom will continue to ring across this land.”
“To those who died securing peace and freedom, to those who served to protect our land, for over two centuries, we owe our thanks and our honor,” Coryell said eight years ago. “It is important to not only recognize their service but to respect their devotion to duty and to ensure that the purpose for which they served will never be forgotten.”