- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

SMITHSBURG, Md. Death and dim memories have nearly erased the story of the Memorial Forest.
Yet the hemlocks remain, evergreen and straight as soldiers, high in the Catoctin Mountains. They grew from seeds tossed from an airplane one cloudy spring morning in 1945 onto a cleared, 40-acre tract dedicated to Washington County residents who served in World War II.
Then the trees were largely forgotten.
Now some veterans and the county historical society are raising money to put a marker there, in a small clearing off a gravel road. Explaining the prevalence of hemlocks among the hardwoods, it would stand beside a crystal stream along the Appalachian Trail.
Appalachian Trail advocates oppose the plan. Others consider the trees memorial enough.
Paul Wolber, a retired doctor who taught Army intelligence classes during the war, hopes to see a stone-and-brass marker erected by this fall. He has lined up donations of labor, stone and other materials to defray the $5,000 cost.
"It just seems a shame that Washington County has no official monument to honor its World War II veterans. It had a good number of them and they are fast disappearing," he said.
Veteran Fred W. Wishard, 77, a speaker at the forest's dedication ceremony on April 21, 1945, has been pressing for years for public recognition of the spot. "I hadn't found anybody who ever remembered it," he said.
Mr. Wishard opposes a marker in the forest, though. Until Mr. Wolber got involved this year, Mr. Wishard had hoped for a marker in a county park near Hagerstown, 10 miles from the forest. The city of Hagerstown owns the Memorial Forest as part of the 1,800-acre Edgemont Reservoir watershed.
"I said, 'If you put it up there, you're going to have to maintain it.' Nobody goes back there," Mr. Wishard said. "I just disapprove of it entirely."
Even Mr. Wishard, who lost part of his left foot to a wound he received in the Battle of the Bulge, said he had not returned to the Memorial Forest until January, after Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner publicly expressed interest in the place.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains Maryland's section of the Maine-to-Georgia footpath, also wants Mr. Wolber to consider another, more conspicuous location for a marker.
"Both the Appalachian Trail Conference and the National Park Service have policies prohibiting the location of monuments or memorials within the Appalachian Trail Corridor," Charles A. Graf, chairman of the Maryland trail-management committee, wrote Mr. Wolber in a letter May 2.
Mr. Breichner argues that Mr. Wolber's proposed 4-foot marker would not impede hikers on what is, after all, city property.
"It was a Memorial Forest, it was dedicated to the veterans of World War II and I thought it was a proper thing to do," Mr. Breichner said.
Markers have been discussed before. Mr. Wolber said 4-H Club members who participated in the tree-planting had planned to erect one, but for some reason didn't. An article in the April 1946 issue of American Forests magazine contains an excerpt from a letter written by three Hagerstown-area servicemen stationed in Guam, saying that the trees, besides honoring veterans, provided a public benefit, "which no cold shaft of stone or metal could ever do."
Mr. Wolber, 85, said the trees make "a nice backdrop," but are not a true memorial. "I think it's rather meaningless unless you have something in writing there," he said.
Mildred Rohrer, who has lived nearby for 35 years and yet had never heard of the Memorial Forest, agreed. "They deserve something, some kind of recognition," she said, "and it couldn't be a prettier part of the country, as far as I'm concerned."


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