- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Along 16th Street in upper Northwest, people hustle and bustle 365 days a year. Cars cruise by, packed city buses grind along and a constant stream of joggers and dog walkers crowd the sidewalks.
Few, if any, of the busy pedestrians notice the two crumbling little plaques planted in the earth along the sidewalks more than a half-century ago to honor men who died in World War I.
For a few hours yesterday, that changed.
A group of area Girl Scouts and senior veterans gathered early on Memorial Day to tie ribbons around trees next to the plaques to revive a long-dormant Washington tradition.
Rose Long, 88, remembers a time when the annual Memorial Day ritual of decorating the plaques and the trees was a neighborhood tradition that made 16th Street a special place to grow up.
"We lived at 16th and Oak streets," she said yesterday, watching as the group of wide-eyed young girls tied red, white and blue ribbons to the trees. "As a girl, on Sundays we'd walk along here and read the names on the plaques."
Beginning in 1921, the Vincent B. Costello Post of the American Legion teamed up with the American Forestry Association to plant a grove of about 500 trees between the 5400 and 5800 blocks of 16th Street. Next to each tree was placed a concrete plinth with a copper name badge on top to honor a fallen soldier.
"People would come by and put flowers and tokens of remembrance on the different stones," Mrs. Long said. "It wasn't an organized thing. There hasn't ever been an organized group like today it's wonderful."
Her mother's cousin, "a man by the name of Toone," was one of the soldiers honored with a plaque and a tree. His copper name badge, like hundreds of others, is missing.
Priscilla B. Thompson-Roberts of the D.C.-based World War II Veteran's Committee, helped organize yesterday's gathering, saying, "Decorating this place is a tradition that the World War II Veterans Committee is going to start again."
The committee, working with local representatives of the American Legion, the American Forests Association and the Girl Scouts, plans to make the ribbon-tying an annual Memorial Day happening. The goal is "venerating the fallen World War I veterans," Mrs. Thompson-Roberts said.
Over the decades, all but two of the 4-by-6 inch markers have been either vandalized beyond recognition or destroyed by repaving and replanting of the trees on the stretch of 16th Street.
One of the two remaining plaques reads, "John A. Kendall, U.S. Army, World War, 1917-1918." The other says, "Leo Joseph, Memorial Tree, World War, 1917-1918, U.S.A."
"That one's pretty legible. You can read the guy's name and the whole bit," said Mrs. Thompson-Roberts' husband, retired Army Maj. Gen. J. Milnor Roberts, who attended yesterday's gathering.
"After the Depression and even later, people scavenged the copper off the markers," said Mrs. Rose, who has since moved from the neighborhood and now lives in Kensington.
Mrs. Rose spent 53 years working for the American Legion after the second World War and says, "We spent years trying to get the city government to do this and to preserve the markers, and there is just no interest."
There are forgotten bits of history scattered everywhere in the nation's capital. Many people realize that, and few really care. "What's happened is that over the decades, someone's taken the plates off of the plaques, and the original trees are gone," said Gen. Roberts, 83, a veteran of World War II.
But September 11 has inspired some to make a change a change that glowed in the eyes of 12-year-old Katie McDaniel as she strapped a ribbon to a sapling yesterday.
"Some people care about these things and some people don't," said Katie, of Virginia Girl Scout Troop 5285. She came from Dumfries to tie ribbons with other scouts from Maryland troops 3368 in Rockville and 385 in North Potomac.
"I like learning about World War I and World War II," she said. "It is nice to be putting ribbons here for people who were actually in those wars. It's really important now, especially because we just had September 11," she said.
Kimberly Bedell, 18, a member of Troop 385 in her last year as a Girl Scout, saw the ribbon-tying as "a chance to give back to the community and show that we really can make a difference."
It's a difference that would matter to the American fighting men who perished in Europe.
Gen. Roberts can attest to that, having fought along with thousands who died during one of the great battles of the second World War.
On June 6, 1944, Gen. Roberts was among those who stormed Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, with the Army's Landing Craft Infantry. His group had the soldiers who literally climbed out of the sea to defeat the Germans on D-Day.
"There were bodies all over the beach," Gen. Roberts said, adding that during the days after, he felt "lucky to be alive."
Yesterday, however, as he tied ribbons with his wife, a few other veterans and the Girl Scouts, he had a World War I service medal pinned to the breast pocket of his shirt in remembrance of his father, a veteran before him.
"I figured as long as we're about World War I, we might as well get the medal out," he said.
On the back of the bronze-colored medal are inscribed the names of the 14 countries involved in the first World War. Above the countries read the words: "The Great War for Civilization."


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