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Boulevard name plan irks some veterans

April 01, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown City Council deliberations to rename Memorial Boulevard after baseball great Willie Mays have drawn fire from some local veterans, who say making the change would be an insult to those its current name was intended to honor.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous," said Korean War veteran Ron Hovis. "There is nobody alive, as far as I'm concerned, that they should take a memorial away from the veterans and give it to."

What was Willow Lane until the 1930s was renamed Memorial Boulevard to honor World War I veterans, said Hovis and other veterans. As other wars followed, he said, the road stretching from Municipal Stadium to Park Circle was redesignated to honor veterans of all wars.

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While the street retains the name of East Memorial Boulevard from South Potomac Street to Eastern Boulevard, the council agreed last summer to install a secondary sign, adding the name Willie Mays Way to the stretch of road.

The Council added the name to honor Mays upon his return to Hagerstown in August, five decades after he played in his first professional baseball game here in June 1950.

Council members are considering permanently renaming the roadway, although a decision has been delayed by unrelated logistical issues involving those properties that now have East Memorial Boulevard addresses, including the stadium, Bester Elementary School and Bell Atlantic Corp.

"As a veteran of World War II, I'm speaking for thousands of veterans in the area who consider that a slap in the face," said John McCune. "It's unfair. That's the way we consider it ... it's unfair. If they want to dedicate a street or roadway, that's all fine and good, but don't pick a street dedicated to veterans."

Mayor William Breichner, who spearheaded the temporary and permanent naming efforts, said there are no city records to support the assertion Memorial Boulevard was named to honor veterans.

"There was no mention of veterans or anything else in those (city) documents," Breichner said. "I'm not saying I'm indifferent to the feelings of the veterans, I just haven't found any indication of that."

Kenneth Conway, post commander of Morris Frock American Legion Post 42, said even if the road's name was not intended as a tribute for veterans, it was a memorial to someone or something and should not so quickly be dismissed.

"Even if it isn't veterans, it was a memorial dedicated to someone, and again I would say, why would you take that memorial away from someone to do something else?" he said.

While he said he is opposed to a permanent change, Conway said he believes maintaining the road's dual designation could be middle ground between Mays supporters and veterans.

"If it was Memorial Boulevard and above it Willie Mays Way, I don't think anybody would have a problem with it," he said.

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