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Volunteers make ceremony special

December 05, 2009|By BRIDGET DiCOSMO

SHARPSBURG -- When Ron Nosalik and a handful of Boy Scouts from his troop in Upper Marlboro, Md., visited Antietam National Battlefield in December some 21 years ago, it was to earn a merit badge.

They arrived to see hundreds of people arranging brown paper bags and lighting candles in the fields, preparing for what was the first Annual National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.

"We were wondering what all these people were doing putting lunch bags down on the field," Nosalik said Saturday at this year's event.

Since then, neither Nosalik nor Scouts from his troop have missed a chance to spend the day of the illumination helping set up the luminarias that honor the 23,110 soldiers wounded, killed and missing on the bloodiest single day of the American Civil War.

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Over 1,200 volunteers, including about 700 Boy Scouts, worked to prepare the luminarias Saturday, despite frigid temperatures and swirling snow that made it nearly impossible to keep the candles burning in the damp paper bags.

"This year has most definitely been one for the record books," Battlefield Superintendent John Howard said during the illumination ceremony.

The illumination, which is in its 21st year, is the largest volunteer-based event in all of Western Maryland, Howard said.

Not only are there people like Nosalik who have returned every year to light hundreds of luminarias in preparation for nightfall, the majority of the volunteers have participated for at least 14 years, said Georgene Charles, chairwoman of the illumination.

The return rate of volunteers for the event is 97 percent, Charles said.

"This means something to them. They're honoring the soldiers in a very reverent way," Charles said.

Nosalisk said some of the younger volunteers aren't aware of the full significance of the luminarias they are lighting until nightfall.

"They don't realize what it's all about until we drive through in the evening. Then it hits home. We realize each bag represents an individual, a dad, a son," Nosalik said.

Brown bags are always used because they seem more somber than the more popular white luminaries, Charles said.

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