MIDDLE RIVER, Md. - Memorial Day took on a personal tone for Tony DeRuggiero last year.
A scoutmaster with Troop 355, DeRuggiero helps organize the annual Memorial Day event at the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holy Hill cemetery in Middle River. Each year, the memorial honors local veterans and those that paid the ultimate price by inscribing their names on the memorial.
Last year, those names included one of DeReggiero’s former Eagle Scouts. Staff Sgt. Brandon Pepper, 31, a 1999 Kenwood graduate, was killed in July 2012 during an enemy attack while he was on patrol in Afghanistan. Pepper died in eastern Afghanistan's Ghazni province.
“[Pepper’s] death gave Memorial Day a whole new meaning for me,” said DeRuggiero, who is also president of the memorial. “Even before he died, I felt bringing the scouts out here each year was important because part of being a scout is honoring God and country. These boys need to understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.”
The Memorial Day service at Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial has been a fixture in Middle River for more than three decades. Veterans from World War II through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan typically make their presence felt throughout the service. More than 100 people were in attendance at this year’s service.
Among those was Sam Young.
Young, a member of VFW Post 6506, served in the Marines from 1961-65 including during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He said this Memorial Day comes at a time when the country should be paying extra attention to veterans.
The holiday comes as President Barack Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan over the weekend as the U.S. prepares to turn over security of the country to the Afghans . In addition, the federal government is taking a close look at the Department of Veterans Affairs following reports that 40 patients died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital.
“It’s sad to see how those that have served our country have been abandoned as they need care,” Young said. “I hate to say it, but I’m concerned we’re going to hear about others that die because of a lack of care. Hopefully, events like we have here today can help remind people about those that served and those that paid the ultimate price.”
Matt Eberhardt is among those that cherish the service from U.S. veterans. The 18-year-old Chesapeake High graduate and Eagle Scout plans on enlisting in the Marines in December.
“It means a lot to me to be out here today and pay my respects to our nation’s veterans,” Eberhardt said. “So many people forget about what Memorial Day is all about and I can’t understand why. We’re able to be free because of the sacrifices made by our veterans.”
Edith Canapp never forgets. The 88-year-old makes it a point to be at the Middle River service each year to honor her son, Cpl. Gary E. Canapp, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968.
“This is a tradition for me,” said Canapp, a member of the Maryland Gold Star Mothers, an organization for parents of fallen soldiers. “I feel a duty to be here not just for my son but all of those names on that memorial.”