Community dedicates new APG Memorial

From left, Survivors Nikki Smith and Amy Blackburn Rice and Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Cadet Jai’lyn Forgy, stand in honor of fallen service members, civilians and contractors who lost their lives while on duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground during the dedication of the APG Memorial at Festival Park in Aberdeen, May 31, 2017. Smith and Rice lost their father, Contractor Grat Blackburn, in a work-related accident in 2009. | U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder, APG News

A new memorial commemorating APG service members and Department of Defense civilians and contractors who lost their lives while on duty, was officially unveiled during a dedication ceremony at Festival Park in the city of Aberdeen May 31.

The community event was hosted by the APG Centennial Celebration Association, or ACCA, and was attended by senior military leaders, city and county representatives, and family members of the fallen.

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said the city is “permanently intertwined” with APG.

“We must stand vigilant to remember those who came before us; this addition to our Festival Park here at Aberdeen will serve as another permanent linkage between the military installation and our city, remembering all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our republic,” he said.

A new memorial honoring APG military, civilian and Department of Defense contractors who lost their lives while on duty was unveiled on May 31, 2017 in Aberdeen’s Festival Park | U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder

Critical mission

Jim Fasig, the former technical director of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command’s Aberdeen Test Center, or ATC, talked about the dedication of the ATC workforce, and the critical nature of their jobs.

“We’re out there to help the Army get the best equipment they can possibly put in the hands of the Soldiers, who are in horrid conditions,” he said. “So that makes the testing very, very difficult.”

Basically, Fasig said, everything a Soldier uses in a mission is tested at ATC, from body armor to large tanks like the M1 Abrams.

“I don’t think there is any item that a Soldier touches that we haven’t touched first,” he said. “So it’s a very important job that is done not that far away, by a bunch of people that are very dedicated; almost like family.”

Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, commander of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command,  called the memorial “a labor of love.”

“Team APG workforce and their families, they shop at the same stores, they attend the same churches, they go to the same schools, and so this memorial is a symbol of the continued steadfast support that the community provides Aberdeen Proving Ground each and every day,” he said.

Wins added that the APG Centennial is not only about honoring the past 100 years of APG, it is also about preparing to lay the foundation for a robust future.

“From the Great War to the present day battle, if a Soldier uses technology to shoot, move, communicate or sustain itself, chances are it was developed, tested and fielded by some of more than 22,000 members of the Aberdeen Proving Ground team,” he said.

The keynote speaker was David Craig, the executive director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission, and former Harford County executive. Craig praised the City of Aberdeen, APG, and ACCA for creating the APG Memorial to recognize the men and women who made the “supreme sacrifice.”

“We see names often on monuments of the ones who actually died overseas,” he said. “But we don’t see the names of the ones who did not make it over there.”

Prior to unveiling the memorial, the master of ceremonies Jamie Costello, a co-anchor of ABC2 News of WMAR-TV Baltimore, read the names of 47 fallen service members, civilians and contractors who lost their lives while on duty at APG. Costello also recognized Maj. Gen. Harold “Harry” Greene who served at APG before he was killed in Afghanistan in 2014.

“While he was not working at APG at the time of his death, he was an important part of our community,” Costello said.

The memorial is also dedicated to the more than 80 people connected to the installation who lost their lives during the influenza epidemic in 1918, he said.

Costello asked the audience for a moment of silence to remember the fallen before the memorial was unveiled by McGrady, Wins, Fasig and Barney Michel, ACCA president. Surviving family members layed wreaths at the memorial with assistance from members of the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy color guard.

Family reactions

Nikki Smith attended the ceremony to honor her father Grat Blackburn, a civilian retiree and contractor who died in a work-related accident in 2009.

“They go to work, and then they don’t come back. It’s tough,” she said. “There are things left unsaid.”

Smith said the memorial is a good way to keep her father’s memory alive. Two engraved bricks are dedicated to Blackburn at the memorial site.

“It’s great that everybody can come and see that he died trying to protect people overseas,” she said.

Peggy Dierdorff Waterworth said she was only 6 years old when her father Maj. Beecher Dierdorff died in a helicopter crash attempting to rescue an expectant mother during a blizzard in 1966. She called the APG Memorial “very nice.”

“I am very pleased,” she said. “They worked very hard [to create the memorial], you can tell.”

The ceremony included the posting and the retiring of colors by the Maryland Freestate ChalleNGe Academy color guard, the national anthem sung by the Aberdeen High School A Cappella Choir, an invocation by Rev. Lewis Geigan, chaplain for Bernard L. Tobin American Legion Post 128; and remarks by Charles Nietubicz, the vice president of ACCA, and Don Lewis, with the Aberdeen Proving Ground Federal Credit Union.

To commemorate the event, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman presented a proclamation to the ACCA.

“We are thankful as a county, for our relationship with Aberdeen Proving Ground,” Glassman said.

Virtual memorial

The APG Memorial was created by the ACCA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating “APG’s 100 years of world-changing technology development.” The majority of the memorial was paid for by donations from local businesses.

Joan Michel, with the ACCA, said a virtual memorial will be established on the ACCA website, http://apg100.org//.

“The objective is to tell the stories and honor those who have died in the line of duty at APG,” she said.

For more information, contact Michel, at joan@APG100.org.

 

Story by Rachel Ponder, APG News

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