Billy Brown remembered during annual Memorial Day ceremony
— Borrowing from the hugely popular Broadway musical “Hamilton,” retired Rear Adm. Paul W. “Pete” Dillingham Jr. on Monday asked and then answered the questions, “When you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who tells your story?”
Harvard- and Naval War Collegeeducated Dillingham told the story of Korean War veteran William Thomas Brown in a stirring Memorial Day tribute in St. Paul’s Cemetery that was sponsored by Frank M. Jarman American Legion Post 36.
Brown had a short life, but a very fruitful life, Dillingham said of the Kent County native who died in April 1989 — one month before his 58th birthday — due to complications of rheumatic fever.
Dillingham called Brown a “kindred soul.” They were born two months apart and graduated from high school on the same day.
Both men served their country heroically.
As a young Air Force recruit, Brown did his basic training in California. Next came “A School,” i.e. technical training, in Illinois, where he became a skilled instrument mechanic. His fouryear military commitment included
deployment to Korea, where, among other duties, he taxied aircraft to the runway for pilots.
Brown was honorably discharged in 1955, having achieved the rank of staff sergeant.
His decorations included the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
Brown returned to Kent County, married and raised a family in Rock Hall. Like many in the bayside community, he made his life on the water — at first working alongside his stepfather and ultimately purchasing two workboats of his own.
It was a good and rewarding life, Dillingham said.
Monday’s tribute to Brown included a rifle salute, the placing of a floral wreath at his gravesite and a lone bugler’s call of taps.
Three generations of the Brown family attended the 8:30 a.m. ceremony, including daughter Vickie Anderson of Chestertown, grandchildren Kristen Bedford, Johnny Anderson and Ryan Bucklew, and two greatgrandsons.
“Billy” Brown is buried next to his wife. Phyllis Brown’s brother and his wife, Joe and Charlotte Gagalski, who live part time in Rock Hall, also attended the ceremony.
Post 36 Commander Walter Coryell served as master of ceremonies. Post 36 also provided the color guard, rifle salute and bugler.
The American Legion Riders and Knights of Columbus also participated.
Seated in the front row of chairs assembled near Brown’s gravesite was his childhood friend Les Joiner of Chestertown.
They grew up together as next-door neighbors in the Quaker Neck area, were three months and 10 days apart in age, and both served in Korea as part of their four-year military commitment.
Brown was sent to the West Coast for basic training, while Joiner stayed on the East Coast.
It was Brown who introduced Joiner to his wife of 65 years.
“We were brothers,” said Joiner, 86, wearing a navy blue baseball-type cap with the words Korean veteran emblazoned above the bill. He remembered his friend as “very gentle and loving.”
It was cool and damp and overcast Monday morning, the weather suiting Dillingham’s somber message.
“We live in a very dangerous world and there are evil people out there,” he said. It’s important that the youth of America understand this, he said.
Dillingham said he was disappointed that there were so few young people in the audience, and that history and civics are not given more emphasis in schools.
According to Dillingham, less than one-half of 1 percent of the American population is serving in the military today in the war on terrorism.
“Fewer and fewer people are shouldering more and more of the burden,” Dillingham said.
He said the Islamic State is still strong and spreading to Europe. He said Osama bin Laden’s 28-year-old son is ascending in the leadership ranks of al-Qaida.
North Korea also poses a serious threat because of its nuclear weapons, Dillingham said.
Striking a hopeful beat, he then quoted former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.”
That elicited chuckles from the audience.
“It’s not straight forward. It’s messy,” Dillingham said of the American form of government. “But it’s democracy, the voice of the people.”
He concluded his remarks by thanking everyone who has served in the military, “especially William Thomas Brown.”
Kent County’s observance of Memorial Day included a parade in downtown Chestertown, led by the color guards of Post 36 and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
Chestertown Elks Lodge 2474 sponsored the parade. Bill Blake of Betterton American Legion Post 246, commander of the Legion posts in Kent County, served as emcee.
At the conclusion of the parade, Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, thanked veterans for their service and thanked their families.
“An enormous amount of sacrifice has been given to support our freedom,” Jacobs said. “We remember and appreciate the cost of freedom.”
Jacobs summarized the history of Memorial Day, which was originally known as Decoration Day and honored Union and Confeder- ate soldiers who had died in the Civil War.
In 1971, Congress passed legislation that established Memorial Day as a federal holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May.
Jacobs also recited “In Flanders Fields,” one of the most memorable war poems.
“It’s not just the kickoff to summer and day to open the pool,” he said of Memorial Day.
At noon Monday, in a ceremony in Monument Park that was sponsored by Sumner Hall, wreaths were placed at the obelisk that honors African American veterans and the large granite monument that honors Kent County soldiers — who fought for the Union and the Confederacy — who were killed in the Civil War.
“We remember the lives lost and the sacrifices made,” said Nina Johnson, Sumner Hall’s executive director.
Yvette Hynson, a Sumner Hall board member, sang “Amazing Grace” and several in the small group that gathered offered their thoughts about what freedom and service to country mean.
Larry Samuels, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he respected someone’s right to protest, kneel during the playing of the national anthem and not salute the American flag. But we should never disrespect the men and women who put their lives on the line in service of America, he said.
PHOTO BY TRISH MCGEE Korean War veterans Les Joiner, foreground, and Jack Diller, both of Chestertown, look at photographs of Memorial Day honoree William Thomas Brown. Also pictured is Dottie Joiner. “Billy” Brown introduced Dottie and Les Joiner, who have been married 65 years.
Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, delivers a Memorial Day message at the conclusion of a parade down Chestertown’s High Street. PHOTO BY TRISH MCGEE