BALTIMORE - Stories of selfless service and sacrifice filled a park beside the Patapsco River as U.S. Army Col. Sven Erichsen spoke at a Veterans Day ceremony at the Maryland Korean War Memorial.
Bells tolled eleven in a nearby church. Flocks of sparrows chirped from tree branches, as a gentle breeze lifted falling leaves through the air. Dozens of veterans and families gathered for the hour-long event, which began with bagpipers, patriotic music and the posting of the colors.
With historic Fort McHenry, with its replica Star Spangled Banner waving in the wind, Erichsen shared the story of Bob Spiroff, a Baltimore native who fought in Korea.
"The fighting was bitter, and the conditions were extreme," said Erichsen.
A platoon sergeant in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, Spiroff fought alongside Yugoslav partisans in World War II and was among U.S. troops in Japan when war broke out in Korea in 1950, Erichsen said, adding that Spiroff is now 96 and living Severna Park, Maryland.
Erichsen, of Forest Grove, Illinois, served 28 years. For the past year, he's been at Aberdeen Proving Ground as the 20th CBRNE Command's operations officer. He was among several APG Soldiers that took part in local ceremonies on Nov. 11 to commemorate military service.
Erichsen also spoke of Sgt. Donn Porter, a Medal of Honor recipient. During a Chinese assault that killed two comrades, Porter's machine gun held off the enemy advance. When out of bullets, Porter fought hand to hand with the enemy, who fired artillery and killed the Pennsylvania native who enlisted in Baltimore.
"But, because Donn Porter was there, many more men lived to see another day," Erichsen said. "Selfless sacrifice."
He also spoke of Sgt. Jeff Dawson, a bomb disposal expert who faced insurgents while on patrol in Afghanistan. An insurgent detonated a suicide vest, injuring Dawson. Ignoring his wounds, Dawson worked for hours to defeat other bombs in the area before being evacuated, Erichsen said. Dawson earned the Distinguished Service Cross.
"These stories share a common thread -- incredible courage, incredible sacrifice, from ordinary Americans," Erichsen said. "I guarantee you that the last thing on Bob Spiroff's, or Jeff Dawson's, or Donn Porter's mind was how they were going to win medals. They were thinking of their buddies, and how they were going to protect them. Selflessness."
Dressed in white woolen sweaters and tartan kilts, members of the Saint Andrews Society of Baltimore carried in the flags of the U.S., Britain and each of the military services as bagpipes droned out an old Scottish anthem. Later, they presented their flags during Taps. The ceremony concluded with a solemn rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Built in 1990, the memorial contains the names of 527 Maryland troops who died in the Korean War. The Canton park, at 3001 Boston Street., overlooks the Patapsco River. In the distance is Fort McHenry, site of the 1814 battle that prompted Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.
The Baltimore ceremony was one of three community relations events the 20th CBRNE Command supported on Nov. 11. Other events were in Bel Air, where Soldiers visited the John Archer School and local veteran's organizations. Together, with troops from other Aberdeen Proving Ground, Soldiers took part in seven ceremonies in northeast Maryland, to include Edgewood, Aberdeen, Perryville and Elkton.
One veteran, Jack Cloman, 85, who served in Korea with the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division, was glad to see the Erichsen at the podium.
"It's important to the people to see him here, Cloman said. "He's active duty and he's a veteran. He's still doing his thing."
Cloman always brought his grandson, Doug, to the annual ceremony. Now a Baltimore firefighter, Doug Cloman and his wife Megan brought sons Jacob, 7, and James, 1, so they can learn how
veterans served, he said.
"I spent a lot of time with my grandfather and learned to appreciate these things," Doug Cloman said. "We owe everything to our veterans, going back to the Founding Fathers. The rights we enjoy were provided by them."