- - Sunday, May 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Memorial Day used to be more than a once-a-year barbecue holiday. There was a time when sports fans would be reminded of the sacrifices brave men and women made for this country every time they passed through the turnstiles of their home team stadium.

Memorial Stadium, or variations of it, was once a common name for stadiums built around the country for sporting events. The term is still active in use among colleges and small town facilities, but it is a disappearing concept — stadiums named to represent what the holiday is supposed to remind us of.

Today, from major league ballparks to high school football stadiums, names are for sale, and no one is buying the rights to name those places for men and women of honor.

This holiday, originally known as Decoration Day after the Civil War, was changed to Memorial Day to honor the memory and service of those countrymen who died while in service of the United States.

As people walked into turnstiles to enjoy the fruits of their freedom, they would be reminded of those sacrifices by the very names of the stadium — and often with some sort of memorial to honor those fallen soldiers.

Perhaps no where in America represented that better than the former home of the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Colts — Memorial Stadium. The 33rd Street facility opened in 1954 — a time when the price paid for those who died in World War II had not yet faded — and named Memorial Stadium for those who died in that war.

When you walked through the turnstiles in at the home plate entrance to Memorial Stadium, you were greeted by this larger-than-life message:

“Erected by the City of Baltimore 1954.

“Dedicated by the Mayor and the City Council and the People of Baltimore City in the state of Maryland.

“As a Memorial to All Who so Valiantly Fought ‘and Serve in the World Wars with Eternal ‘Gratitude to Those Who ‘Made the Supreme ‘Sacrifice to Preserve Equality and Freedom ‘Throughout the World.’”

And then, to bring the message home that defines the very existence of this holiday, the letters on the wall entering the stadium ended with:

“Time Will Not Dim The Glory Of Their Deeds.”

That powerful last line came from General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and the first chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission for 25 years.

Alas, though, time has, at least in public structures where thousands gather every day in this country. Yes, there is still the national anthem before games, and now often a rendition of “God Bless America” as well, as well as the tributes during the games to veterans in attendance.

But the message like the one that stood at Memorial Stadium is one that each person can choose to internalize and appreciate in their own way. There are no instructions to stand and remember. There are just the words to digest as you see fit. It can be a moment. Or is can be a lesson.

To the credit of city and state officials, those letters and that message has continued to live on at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in a smaller replica display on the plaza outside the ballpark. But the thousands of people who come to Camden Yards every year could easily pass it by and never see it.

Although pro sports has found that its marriage to the military service has proven to be a lucrative one, stadium and ballpark names have not been included in that commerce, fallen by the wayside in place of businesses like Citizens Bank (which replaced the old Philadelphia stadium — named “Veterans” Stadium).

There is still one local sports home, though, where time will never dim the glory of their deeds — where the memory of those who gave their lives in defense to “preserve freedom and equality throughout the world” will never been sold in place of hardware or software — the U.S. Naval Academy’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

If you haven’t treated yourself to the experience of attending an event at the stadium, you are robbing yourself of just that — an experience. Navy football games are so much more than just a game, and any event at the stadium is a reminder of the price paid for freedom.

The stadium opened in 1959 and underwent a renovation, reopening with a dedication in 2005. The new stadium has more than 8,000 chair back memorial plates that were removed from the old stadium, refurbished and reinstalled in the new seats.

They did the same for hundreds of memorial plaques featured on the Memorial Plaque Wall in the North Memorial Plaza. Battle arches and class arches have been built to tell the story of the Navy and Marine Corps, with each of them including the history and descriptions of famous battles. Some of those battles that visitors can read about include Anzio, the Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, Normandy, Iwo Jima and many other conflicts where lives were lost in defense of freedom and liberty.

The plaque dedicating Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium reads as follows:

“This Stadium is dedicated to those who have served and will serve as upholders of the traditions and renown of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States. May it be a perpetual reminder that the Navy and Marine Corps are organizations of men trained to live nobly and serve courageously in peace, champions of our integrity; in war, defenders of our freedom.”

It’s Memorial Day. We all may take a minute or two to remember why this is a holiday. While you’re doing that, take the time to pick a date to experience Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium — where every day is Memorial Day.

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