Scout heads civilian monument beautification
June 9, 2011
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - A rededication ceremony that took place at Aberdeen Proving Ground South (Edgewood) May 30, all began when a local Boy Scout wanted to honor government civilians who lost their lives while serving on Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Thinking it would make a fitting Eagle Scout project, he proposed a project to post officials that would allow him to erect a monument. Was surprised to learn that the installation already had one.
The World War II-era monument had gone largely unnoticed in recent years so 14-year-old Tommy Surdu refocused his efforts on reviving the monument and educating the community on its existence and significance.
Surdu, a Scout with Troop 810, St. Francis de Sales in Abingdon, led the undertaking from proposal to completion, taking on endless tasks that included researching the history of the site, planning, organizing and documenting every detail of its revitalization.
Surdu is the son of Col. John R. Surdu, military deputy to the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics, Research, Development and Engineering Center.
“When I found out a monument existed and then saw its condition, I decided to beautify it instead of building one,” the young Surdu said.
He said planning began in September 2010. After talking to his father and Scout master, he was directed to APG South workers including historian Jeff Smart who provided him with much of the information about the structure.
“I worked on the proposal little by little, sometimes every night,” he said, adding that he received final approval from the garrison during the Christmas season.
Surdu’s planning book contains every minute detail from diagramed measurements of the site, to projected supplies, tools and man hours.
Troop 810 Scout master Walt Scowden said that despite Surdu’s young age, he has well developed leadership qualities.
“Planning for a project like this has to be so thorough that if he couldn’t be here for whatever reason, we could actually be able to pick up his book and complete the project,” Scowden said. “Tommy more than met that requirement. He’s a very good leader and he’s been very thorough. And, he’ll be the youngest Eagle Scout we have in our troop.”
The scouts of Troop 810 and several volunteers descended on the site May 7 and 8 and spent the weekend digging holes, mulching and planting flowers and shrubs, assembling and installing park benches in cement, scrubbing the granite memorial and performing numerous other beautification tasks.
Tommy even assisted in planning the dedication program which featured Col. Orlando W. Ortiz, APG garrison and deputy installation commander, as the guest speaker. Guests in attendance included Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commander of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command and Joseph Wienand, technical director of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
Surdu’s father, who hosted the event, said the site represents 386 hours of research, planning and labor. He said it was fitting that the ceremony was conducted on Memorial Day, just prior to the installation ceremony at the Edgewood Arsenal Cemetery.
“Typically, we concentrate on our fallen military. Rededication of this monument allows us to remember the sacrifices of our civilian workers as well,” he said.
Ortiz said that while it took teamwork to bring the project to fruition, Tommy Surdu’s individual contributions could not be overlooked.
“It was Tommy who had the drive and initiative to conceive the idea, design the reconstruction, coordinate resources, oversee the physical labor and plan this ceremony,” he said, adding that by his actions, Surdu successfully reminds current and future observers of the often overlooked contributions of government civilians.
“He forces us to remember that Soldiers are not the only members of our Army to perish in support of our nation, but civil servants do also,” he said. “We must always remember it takes a team … Soldiers, civilians and contractors, working together. “Tommy, thank you for raising our consciousness.”
The site sits on Magnolia Road between Hoadley and Wise roads near the APG South shoppette. Surrounded by trees, it consists of three bricked walkways leading up to the 7-foot Port Deposit granite slab with a brass plaque that reads “In honored memory of those civilian employees of Edgewood Arsenal who made the supreme sacrifice for their country. Presented by the Employees Welfare Association, 1946.”
Visitors to the site can also read about the history of the monument. Installed by the Scout troop alongside the monument, there is a stand, constructed and donated by Tom Mitchell. The stand contains a book with information assembled by Surdu that details the monument’s history.
Surdu said he was grateful for help and support from Ortiz and Lori Austin, garrison staff action specialist; Tony Hale from the Directorate of Public Works; Tom Mitchell, builder and donator of the bookstand and other on and off-post organizations and volunteers. Other contributors included the Country Garden Center, Wendy’s Restaurant, Lowes, the Edgewood Shoppette, Dee’s Florist, Oakland Living and several adult and youth volunteers.