Memorial Day may be the kick off of the summer season, but for many aging veterans it will be a time to journey to the Maryland World War II Memorial to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice many in the state gave during that conflict.
As spectators attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the Ritchie Highway memorial, they will see the names of 6,454 Marylanders who lost their lives in World War II engraved in the monument’s granite, said Cathy Watts, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s a moving place,” Ms. Watts said. “It also provides a historical portrait of the role Maryland played in World War II.”
The memorial illustrates the contributions of the state’s men and women who stayed at home to work in Maryland’s plants operated by Westinghouse, Bendix, Frieze and numerous smaller companies that produced supplies needed in the war effort.
Even before the United States entered World War II, the Maryland National Guard was preparing its members for combat, in case the country was pulled into the war already raging in Europe or the strife in the Pacific region in wake of Japanese aggression.
Still considered a small U.S. state in the early 1940s, Maryland provided the armed forces with enormous numbers of men and women and produced much of the material required for the military’s labors.
The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland School of Medicine organized hospital units assigned to England and the Pacific Theater, saving thousands of American lives during the war, including many of the 288,000 Maryland military men and women involved in the conflict.
Though World War II brought many tragedies to Maryland families, it also provided great prosperity to the state’s economy, emerging from the grip of the Great Depression.
Bethlehem Steel, Sparrows Point, produced nearly 20 million tons of steel. Bethlehem Fairfield shipyard built 374 Liberty Ships, and shipyards across the state repaired about 10,000 vessels. Glenn L. Martin Company in Middle River and the Fairchild Aircraft Division in Hagerstown assembled more than 16,000 war planes.
The 29th Infantry Division – with military personnel from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia – compiled one of the most distinguished records in the war.
With action in the D-Day invasion at Normandy and scores of other successful missions, the division members were honored with two Medals of Honor, 41 Distinguished Service Crosses, 816 Silver Stars, 5,151 Bronze Stars and many Air Medals. As a division, the 29th received the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation.
With victory in Europe in 1944 and the fall of Japan following the historic 1945 devastation of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the surviving Maryland soldiers returned to the Free State.
“These men and women went beyond the call of duty for their country during World War II,” Ms. Watts said.