DUNDALK, Md. Memories came flooding back to Richard Tilghman as he stood yesterday on the deck of the last working troopship of World War II.
Mr. Tilghman, 79, returned to the United States in 1945 on a similar vessel after spending three years with the Army in Europe.
Quarters were cramped on the ship, but the soldiers didn’t complain.
“We didn’t care what the accommodations were like coming back,” he said. “We were going home.”
Mr. Tilghman, of Baltimore, was among some 400 veterans who boarded the SS John Brown for a Veterans Day cruise from Dundalk to the Baltimore Harbor and back.
The veterans were invited to tour the ship, attend a service in its chapel and listen to remarks from Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, Maryland Democrat.
“You are our heroes,” Mr. Cardin said. “You put on the uniform of this nation to preserve our freedom. We will never forget.”
The ship was led into the Baltimore Harbor by a city fireboat sounding its siren and sending three geysers of water into the air. When the ship returned to the Dundalk Marine Terminal, veterans were greeted by flag-waving family members and a high school chorus.
Veterans from Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf also boarded the Brown yesterday, but the vessel’s history carrying troops to and from Europe during World War II made events especially meaningful for veterans of that conflict.
They were reminded of their time in the service by such touches as young men dressed in period military uniforms, vintage music on the ship’s public address system and a a pinup girl painted on a bulkhead.
Robert Saylor and Don Lewis, both of York, Pa., served during World War II on ships like the Brown as members of the Navy Armed Guard. They manned guns while merchant marines minded the ships and their cargo.
Mr. Saylor, 75, and Mr. Lewis, 74, both have vivid recollections of their wartime experiences.
“We’ve got more stories than the average person has socks,” Mr. Lewis said.
Maybelle Rehbein, 81, sat on deck wearing the same uniform she first put on nearly 60 years ago as a Navy pharmacist’s mate.
Mrs. Rehbein enlisted after her husband left to serve in the South Pacific. She treated patients at Navy hospitals in Bethesda and Annapolis, where she now lives.
Mrs. Rehbein was moved by yesterday’s ceremonies, which included a wreath laying and a 21-gun salute.
“I think it’s emotional for everyone today,” she said.
The meaning of the day was deepened by the newest U.S. conflict.
“A new day to remember has been introduced to us all: September 11, 2001,” said Brother Ed Munro, one of four clergy who participated in the chapel service.
“I say be at ease,” Brother Munro told the veterans.
“We’re in good hands. This generation will make us proud just like you made us proud.”