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Sharpsburg honors fallen with annual ceremonies

May 24, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

SHARPSBURG - Saturday was a day of solemn words, stirring patriotic music and protest in Sharpsburg, where the town held its 131st Memorial Day Commemoration.

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It was the small-town America reminiscent of the Jimmy Stewart classic film. Women pushed their babies in strollers down treed streets. Politicians gave speeches. Flags waved. The war dead were honored - and wreaths laid. Young and old mingled. Together, they watched an old-fashioned parade, featuring 78 units that marched or rolled down Main Street.

Retired Navy Rear Admiral Philip J. Coady, who was keynote speaker at the wreath-laying ceremony, also was grand marshal of the parade.

Charles Kiblinger, a member of the Mason-Dixon Color Guard of Morris Frock American Legion Post No. 42, said it's a tradition for him to be in Sharpsburg on Memorial Day.

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"I love a patriotic parade," he said. "Most military people do."

Kiblinger served in Korea and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Cecilia Rorro, of Myersville, Md., said it was her first Sharpsburg celebration.

"I think it's wonderful that people come out like this for an antiquated event," she said. "So often today, Memorial Day is just barbecues and pool parties. People forget the true meaning of the event."

Rorro said her father was a member of one of the first military crews to enter Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

"They were there to study and observe the results," she said. "Memorial Day was almost like a religious holiday in our house."

Wilmer Mumma, 78, grew up in Sharpsburg. He said he's never missed a Memorial Day parade. "This has always been the biggest day of the year here," he said.

For about an hour before the noon wreath-laying, the Rohrersville Band played classic patriotic songs.

Army veteran Bill Gavin, of Charles Town, W.Va., was in the service for 11 years. He said the Sharpsburg parade has become a Memorial Day habit.

"It's wonderful of this little town to do this," he said. "When I was a kid, everybody used to do it, and everybody used to turn out for the celebration. Now there's really nothing in Charles Town or in Martinsburg for Memorial Day. They've got the spirit of the day here."

While Gavin talked, residents and out-of-towners, some dressed in Civil War-period costumes, strolled the streets. A few of the curious stopped to read posters of protest in front of the Grove House in the Square, where Gen. Robert E. Lee met with his generals on Sept. 17, 1862.

The owner, R.L. Milburn, said in the posters that he was refusing to fly the American flag in front of his home in protest of the way the Sharpsburg mayor and Council has allegedly treated him and other residents.

"If any flag is flown on this special day, in this pitiful town, it should bear a sickle and a hammer, which would be more fitting and appropriate for this style of government," he wrote in part. He said he did not mean the protest as an insult to veterans.

Gavin happened to be sitting on the porch of the Grove House. He said he knew Milburn had had a falling out with local officials but didn't know all the issues and didn't want to judge Milburn.

"I do think what he said is a little bit strong for the spirit of the day," Gavin said. "I think I'd put the flag up if it was me."

Elena Smidt, of Sharpsburg, shrugged off the protest. "This town certainly isn't Communist, that's for sure," she said before moving on.

Sharpsburg Vice Mayor Sid V. Gayle said, "I don't have any comments and I don't want to read his sign. He has his opinions and not everybody shares them."

Pastor Richard Gross and his wife, Wanda, of Halfway, had read Milburn's message. "It sort of dampens the spirit, doesn't it?" said Wanda Gross.

The Rohrersville Band played on across the street, either oblivious to or uncaring about the Grove House controversy. Drum rolls could be heard more than a block away in a private cemetery, where a small American flag flew at the foot of a grave marking the final resting place of Revolutionary War soldier Jacob Graf.

While Milburn's protest cast a brief cloud over those who read it, in the end it did nothing to rain on Sharpsburg's parade.

Spectators lined the streets by the time the event started at 1:45 p.m. Vendors worked the crowd hawking cotton candy and balloons, while young children stared wide-eyed at the passing units.

It was a perfect day for a parade.

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