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Rose Hill ceremony honors sacrifices

May 29, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Sandra McGowan cradles a framed newsletter and photo Saturday from her father's naval service in World War II. She was at Rose Hill Cemetery's annual Memorial Day remembrance.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Call Doug Watkowski old school, but he still believes there is something to be said for time-honored traditions.

That's why he woke up early Saturday morning, put on his tattered Army hat and paid tribute to those who have given their lives in service to their country.

Watkowski, a veteran from Hagerstown, was among a small crowd of people who attended a solemn Memorial Day service at Rose Hill Cemetery.

There were long pauses of silence, the playing of taps and the words of a veteran.

But memories of the dead who fought and died for this country are growing more distant, year by year, said William Divelbiss.

The living are busy simply living.

"For many people, it's far more important to remember the sunscreen than to take a moment to remember those who gave their lives so we can be free," he said.

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It makes him angry.

That's why 10 years ago, Divelbiss, who is executive vice president of the cemetery, decided to organize a special ceremony for the Memorial Day weekend.

"Memorial Day is a special day," he said. "But people have forgotten it's true meaning. For so many Americans, it's more about holiday barbecues and bargain sales than selfless courage."

Divelbiss said he is disappointed that the Rose Hill ceremony doesn't draw a larger crowd but he will continue to offer the annual program "whether we have 50 or 500."

"I think it's important, very important," he said.

Sandra McGowan and Leonard Dawson, both of Hagerstown, attended the ceremony as a way of honoring their father, the late James Dawson, who served in both the Army and Navy during World War II.

Leonard Dawson said his father was 17 when he enlisted in the Army and lied about his age -- "that's how badly he wanted to serve."

He was 28 when he entered the Navy and was stationed aboard the USS Thomas E. Fraser, one of the ships that made its way into Tokyo Bay.

McGowan, who clutched a photo of her father, said he died this year at the age of 94 and was always proud of his military service.

"He would be proud that we're here today," she said.

Guest speaker for the event was Thomas B. Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving from 1974-80.

Riford gave a brief history of Memorial Day, which was originally known as Decoration Day and was established in the years following the Civil War.

"Freedom is not free," Riford said the crowd. "It's bought and paid for. That's why it's important to remember those who sacrificed their lives. Please never forget."

As part of the Memorial Day observation, Rose Hill Cemetery also is hosting Civil War re-enactors, who have pitched tents near the Washington Confederate Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 2,000 men who fought at the battles of Antietam, South Mountain, Gettysburg and Hagerstown.

The re-enactors will offer an interpretation of the Civil War through a variety of demonstrations and stories. They will remain at the cemetery throughout this afternoon.

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