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Retired Navy captain speaks at Antietam ceremony

May 26, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

Fifty years had passed since Lee Kaiss stepped foot in Antietam National Cemetery, but Saturday, the retired U.S. Navy captain returned and reminded a group gathered for a Memorial Day service why their surroundings are so important.

The 67-year-old Hagerstown native told the crowd that the word "Antietam" means something different to people with different backgrounds, from historians to parliamentarians to naval personnel.

Definitions of the word include the site of the bloodiest single day of battle in U.S. history, the catalyst for the Emancipation Proclamation and the name of three naval ships, he said.

"This is the place where I learned the most important values: God, country, family and honor," Kaiss said. "No matter where I was in the world, I always remembered Antietam."

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Kaiss said Sharpsburg residents never swayed from their patriotism, not even during the Vietnam War.

"This area never forgot as it's not forgetting today," he said. "... We are here to pay tribute to those people who have given their lives and also to the people who have served."

Boonsboro-area residents Mark and Marie Bikle said they appreciate the history and tradition that surrounds their hometown area. The couple met while attending Boonsboro High School.

"My family was picking apples in Rohrersville the day of the Battle of Antietam," Marie Bikle said, explaining her family's roots in the area.

"How can you not feel patriotic living in this community," she said.

Boonsboro High School's 65-member symphonic orchestra, led by conductor Heath Wilcox, played songs saluting America's servicemen and women.

Sharpsburg Elementary School fifth-graders took two hours Thursday to place 1,502 American flags on each of the graves at the cemetery, said John Howard, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield.

There are more than 5,000 people buried at the cemetery, most of whom died during the Civil War, he said. Patrick Roy, a Keedysville resident who died in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, is the most recent veteran buried in the cemetery, Howard said.

Fireman Roy, 19, and Seaman Craig Wibberley, 19, of Williamsport, were two of 17 U.S. Navy sailors who died in the 2000 USS Cole explosion.

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