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On the morning of a warmer-than-usual Memorial Day, proud veterans filled Tydings Memorial Park, along with their families and others sporting red, white and blue to honor those who died in military service.

About 125 people turned out for Havre de Grace’s yearly procession of laying wreaths at the three-paneled memorial dedicated to the dead of World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Although Memorial Day focuses on the military’s dead, Havre de Grace’s ceremony Monday touched on the significance of all those who serve.

“We pray that our hearts will be touched by those who have not been killed, but have been wounded and continue to live today with the resolve of before,” the Rev. Ed Heydt said during an opening prayer.

Tim Zeigler, commander of Joseph L. Davis American Legion Post 47, which was hosting the ceremony, said he thought the turnout was larger than normal.

“It’s great to see such a great crowd. It’s been a long time since I saw a crowd like this at Memorial Day,” he said.

Hinting that the day is arguably more about barbecues and beach outings than anything military-related, Zeigler pointed out during his speech that it took Congress about 100 years to declare Memorial Day a federal holiday but only four more years to move the holiday to a Monday to make it a three-day weekend.

“Veterans are the reason for this holiday season, and thank God for them,” he said.

Col. Neal Mills, Havre de Grace’s planning director and the keynote speaker this year, gave testimony to how intricately connected many local people are, in one way or another, to the armed forces.

As a 1967 graduate of Havre de Grace High School who enlisted in the Air Force in 1971 and served with United Nations peacekeeping forces in the Middle East, among other deployments, Mills listed the many ways in which the military has been part of his life.

He noted that while Havre de Grace recognizes many famous heroes, it also has “a rich history of perhaps unsung heroes,” he said.

Mills was 2 years old when his father left for Korea. Meanwhile, his father-in-law was in the Army Air Corps (forerunner of the Air Force), his uncle served with the Marines during World War II, and his second cousin, neighbor and mother’s second husband were all in the military as well.

Mills recalled visiting a cemetery upon returning to his hometown and found there “names I had heard in Havre de Grace growing up but I never appreciated.”

He found the name of one his childhood friends, including a classmate who served in Vietnam, and also recalled “the tragic and senseless” death of Lt. Col. Juanita Warman during the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.

“Let’s not forget those who served and continue to serve today,” Mills said.

He said he left with the U.N. peacekeeping forces when his son, Travis, was nine days old.

Travis recently returned from his second tour with the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Mills’ grandson has also served twice in Iraq.

“Each of you in the audience can recall a similar journey. That’s why you are here,” he said, adding that he wonders if students in Havre de Grace schools know about the rich history of local patriots. “Do they know about their hometown heroes? I do. You do.”

He urged veterans attending to share their stories with young people, their relatives, neighbors and friends “so we can all appreciate the sacrifices our heroes have made and ensure they will never be forgotten.”

After the ceremony, Mills said his observance of Memorial Day has grown over the years as he has watched others take his place in the military.

“I am really proud of the citizens of Havre de Grace, the way they came out in force” for Memorial Day, he said. “I see a groundswell of appreciation and interest.”

Those who came out expressed similar sentiments.

“We are out to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” said Gary High, of Joppatowne, who said he and his wife, Nancy, come from military families. “The sacrifices of those people who came before us are very important.”

Sally Daigle, of Havre de Grace, also said her father was in the Army, her grandfather was in the Navy and her brother was in the Air Force.

Observing Memorial Day “was something we always did,” she said, adding it is important to “remember people that made sacrifices for us, and it’s a wonderful country.”

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