I sit here in my office back at the mausoleum building contemplating the event that just happened--Wreaths Across America 2022. With the assistance of an estimated 600 volunteer participants, we placed wreaths on the graves of 4,383 veterans buried here in Mount Olivet Cemetery. I’m still surprised that we gained the necessary sponsorship to cover all of our “eligible” vets. When I say eligible, I mean gravesites able to accept wreaths because we have many veterans that are buried in settings that don't accommodate a live evergreen.
We have 134 former military personnel either entombed, or inurned, within our three mausoleum buildings. In this instance we have placed a wreath on a stand outside each building to honor the sum within. Meanwhile, 408 Confederate soldiers are buried within a mass grave at the end of Confederate Row. One wreath now marks this spot, while 306 wreaths were placed on the upright graves of Southern soldiers who died in Frederick during the American Civil War and were brought here.
A year of wreath sales, months of planning, events such as the Veterans Day flag-planting, and recent weeks/days of section vet counts, ceremony choreography and chaperone assignments have all culminated in an enjoyable event. We also had sunshine for the first time too!
Most importantly, we honored our veterans for a third major time in 2022 following our annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day exercises. It happened in a flash, it always does, and I’ve been hard-pressed to capture the true magic with images on a smartphone. The smiles on our participant’s faces say so much, but I can only imagine what those “resting” veterans, themselves, would think, along with their respective families?—thoughts of seeing complete strangers decorating graves— years, decades, and in some cases, centuries after their deaths.
We were not alone in performing this activity. As many know, Wreaths Across America originated at Arlington National Cemetery down the road, and happened simultaneously at over 3,400 additional locations throughout the United States, and at sea and abroad. Like ours, each site boasts a host of dedicated volunteers and wreath sponsors celebrating WAA’s mission of Remembering, Honoring and Teaching through the placement of special wreaths on veteran graves.
As emcee of this event each of the last five years, I have the opportunity to infuse a little “veteran history” each year as part of my welcome and opening remarks. In case you are curious, here is a synopsis of what I said after introducing myself this go around and asking the audience to indulge me as I give a brief cemetery geography and history lesson. I began by pointing out cardinal direction points from our vantage point of Mount Olivet’s World War II Memorial in Area EE, dedicated on Memorial Day, 1948.
“Mount Olivet is no stranger to patriotism and US military history as our most recognized resident is the “pop star” of the War of 1812—Francis Scott Key. He was also a veteran of that conflict, fighting at the Battle of Bladensburg, but is known more for his song-writing than military prowess. By geographic terms, he is our northernmost star, both literally and figuratively, as his grave is just inside our front gate entrance. Not far away, in Area G, lies Francis Scott Key’s father, Capt. John Ross Key. He was a participant of the American Revolution, and a friend to George Washington.
We have several soldiers associated with both wars of independence from Great Britain buried in our historic sections to the north of where we stand here. This is also what we refer to as the historic, or original part of the cemetery. In the distance, to our northwest, take note of the Maryland flag fluttering in the wind. That’s the burial site of our first-elected state governor, Thomas Johnson, Jr., located on Area MM. He, too, participated in the American Revolution and led troops in battle before being recalled to serve as a governor. You will be placing wreaths on their graves, along with other veterans of the patriots of 1776 and the defenders of 1812.
Nearby is another flag flying over the grave of Whittier’s heroine Barbara Fritichie. She eye-witnessed both the American Revolution and War of 1812, and likely met both TJ and FSK in real life, or at least saw them on the streets of Frederick. Dame Fritchie was in her early 80s during another conflict, the Mexican War of the late 1840s, and some of you will be decorating their graves today. Ms. Fritchie is best known for her “participation” in the American Civil War. No, she didn’t wield a weapon, but did wave a flag at the enemy, or so they say.
The flag flying over her grave now waves within sight of hundreds of Civil War veterans, both Union and Confederate. Confederate Row itself contains over 700 that died during the war, and there are plenty here from both sides that survived the war, but would be interred here later.
One known Civil War combatant went on to serve in the “wild west” with the United States Second Cavalry. His name was George Late Tyler, and he primarily served in the Montana Territory in the 1870s at such places as Fort Ellis and later Camp Custer. When you decorate his grave, take notice of his beautiful marble monument in Area E, complete with hand-sculpted military uniform accoutrements such as a helmet, sword, belt, spurs and riding gloves.
In Area P, one of you will have the privilege to honor Jesse C. Claggett, Maryland’s only “Rough Rider.” Private Claggett rode under Col. Teddy Roosevelt, and stormed San Juan Heights with the future president in the summer of 1898 during the Spanish-American War.
In the cemetery’s midsection, also within sight from our vantage point here, many of you will decorate graves of World War I veterans buried in areas S, T, U, AA and LL. They surround our newly constructed WWI Gazebo and Never Forget Garden which honors not only those who participated in what was commonly called “The Great War,” but also all prisoners of war and missing in actions. We just dedicated this in late October and have an upcoming goal of more fundraising in an effort to add interpretive panels to this site in an effort to tell more of these World War I veteran stories.
We find ourselves here in Area EE and most of you are standing in Area CC. These, and surrounding cemetery areas to our south, possess tremendous numbers of men and women who participated in our military branches throughout the 20th century, including World War II and the Korean War.
To the west, going back toward our mausoleum complex is what we call our new, or modern, sections. You will find yet more WWII and Korean War era vets, but also those men and women who participated in military service up through present day. This also includes events such as the Vietnam War and conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
Speaking particularly of Vietnam, one of you will have the honor of decorating the grave of Lt. Daniel S. Brittain, a Frederick High graduate turned Marine. Lt. Brittain has the unfortunate distinction of being Frederick City’s first casualty of the Vietnam War. He breathed his last breath in that far-off country. Daniel S. Brittain was killed in the Danang Province on, of all days, Memorial Day 1966. He is buried in a family lot in Area AA, along the central drive through the cemetery. Interestingly, buried in the lot next lot over (and along the road) is famed fashion designer Claire McCardell, a revolutionary in her own right, who was recently honored with a statue on Carroll Creek.
Every veteran here in Mount Olivet, and every cemetery in this country and abroad, has a “life story.” They say you die two deaths. The first is when the physical body shuts down, and it no longer ceases to work. We are all familiar with that. However, the true “death knell” is when we are forgotten—nobody remembers our name anymore, or what we did—no one visits our grave anymore.
Based on this secondary “cause of death,” each of you possesses the unique opportunity to bring the memory of over 4,300 people, veterans, back to life today. You will be saying their name before placing a wreath on their gravesite. Take note of that name, remember that name, at least throughout the rest of today and the weekend, perhaps even longer.”
As I said earlier, wreaths were distributed and placed in a diligent, efficient and reverent manner here today. It was again a humbling experience and quite a sight to see. I’ve tried to include many visuals for you, the reader, in this particular blog for that very reason. I encourage you to make a trip to the cemetery in the next week (if you are able) in an to see the “wreath coverage.” It ranks up there with three other visual spectacles involving our historic, garden cemetery, but dictated by seasonality. Mount Olivet when spring has sprung, Mount Olivet draped in fall foliage and Mount Olivet after a snowfall.
Apart from the wreaths of honor associated with the Wreaths Across America program, Mount Olivet is also decorated for the holidays at this particular time of year. Relatives make annual pilgrimages to give their loved one’s a “festive holiday feel.” This also happens at Easter, and in some cases, Halloween and Thanksgiving as well. The psychological underpinnings of this practice are rooted in the fact that the activity of grave decorating provides a great way to combat grief at these special and emotional times of the year. The gesture represents perhaps a form of “gift-giving” to a decedent by a grateful family. Outside of religious connotations, isn’t the key to the holidays at this time of year (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years) to remember others and count one’s many blessings among challenges?
Our cemetery staff decorates our mausoleum buildings with Christmas trees, which afford family members to place ornaments in memory of loved ones who are inurned in these spaces. Christmas decorations can be found everywhere on the grounds—courtesy of others. Some are very tastefully done, while some are a bit tacky to my taste—but to each their own. Cemeteries house the deceased, but exist for the living. It’s all about remembrance and keeping “their” spirits alive.
This past week, one such gravesite has continued to weigh heavy on my mind due to its unique overlap of both fashions of cemetery decorating—veteran and holiday. That place is the grave of the fore-mentioned Daniel S. Brittain, U.S. casualty of the Vietnam War. This is what gave me cause to specifically include him in my opening ceremony remarks as I had originally intended just to talk about our new World War I Gazebo and the cemetery’s historic section veterans who have not received wreath coverage in previous years because of not having enough wreaths. (Note: In past years, we made the decision to concentrate our available wreath inventory on the newer veterans, and respective sections, on the middle, south and modern segments of Mount Olivet.)
The Dutrow/Brittain family plot in Area LL (Lot 97), where Lt. Brittain is buried, is a site to behold. Two pine trees are a permanent part of the endowment for this lot. Lt. Brittain’s individual gravesite usually dons the Marine Corps flag, and an American flag year-round, but now has a small “Christmas” tree placed next to his elevated ground marker, trimmed in Marine Corps colors. A few feet behind, one can find a custom-made wreath on a stand, boasting smaller versions of both the fore-mentioned flags, and a laminated attachment resembling a bookmark. On its face is a pencil-drawn image of Daniel S. Brittain, with a poem typed out below.
I was inspired to search for any information I could find on this young veteran, struck down in the prime of life—he was only 23 years of age when brought to the grave in May of 1966. This was only eight months before my birth in January of 1967.
Lt. Daniel Spencer Brittain
It is interesting to note that a veteran who died on Memorial Day, was born just one day previous to Veterans Day. That event took place on November 10th, 1942 for parents Warner Lloyd “Mike” Brittain and his wife Dorothy (Dutrow). The front page of the local paper included news of conflict and activity associated with the Second World War. In this same newspaper, I discovered an article talking about an upcoming dance that was being presented as a fundraiser for much needed war bonds. Warner Brittain was the chairperson.
Mr. Brittain was a native of Pittsburgh, PA and had come to Frederick, presumably for work. In a case of “chicken or the egg,” I’m not sure if love provided employment, or employment provided love. You see, Lloyd Brittain worked as a provisions manager for Frederick County Products, Inc., a firm operated by President and General Manager Daniel T. Dutrow—Dorothy’s father.
Warner and Dorothy married in 1940, and from what I can tell, lived with Dorothy’s parents at 27 Rosemont Avenue at the time of our subject Daniel’s birth. I saw this address associated with Warner’s WWII draft registration and a Frederick residential directory from 1946. In the 1950 US Census, the extended family of three generations lived on Fairview Avenue. Daniel and his parents and three brothers would eventually move to East Patrick Street.
Young Daniel attended local schools. I know for a fact that he attended Frederick High School as I found his class picture on Ancestry.com. I strongly assume that Parkway was his elementary school. It hits home a bit because I currently live in a nearby neighborhood, and my son went to grade-school at Parkway.
Daniel also attended Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania prior to high school graduation. This is what likely led to his acceptance into a collegiate Marine Corps training program. This would occur at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK. Brittain graduated in 1965 and immediately embarked on his career in that particular military branch. Tragically, it would be cut short the following spring.
A joyous life moment, however, took place in early 1966. Daniel Brittain was married to the former Barbara Strayer of York, Pennsylvania. The couple had been engaged since 1963, having met here in Frederick where Barbara was attending Hood College. I found newspaper clippings of both engagement and marriage events in papers associated with Frederick and Miss Strayer’s Keystone State hometown.
Second Lieutenant Daniel S. Brittain served with Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, Third Marine Amphibious Force. On the 30th day of May, 1966, his unit was taking part in heightened action in the hill country southwest of Da Nang in the Quang Nam Province. His obituary reported that he died of gunshot wounds to his chest.
As I said in my remarks, Lt. Brittain was the first Frederick man killed during the Vietnam War. The newspapers carried his obituary on June 2nd, and subsequent articles in later days provide more context to his body’s return home, and funeral services.
An additional sadness associated with this death came with the obituary stating that Lt. Brittain had a daughter, Catherine Virginia, born just one month earlier. This must have been an incredible inspiration for Lt. Brittain while in the midst of duty to God and country amidst the warfare in eastern Asia.
Lt. Daniel S. Brittain was laid to rest on the Dutrow family lot, originally bought for his maternal grandmother, Emma M. (Spencer) Dutrow. The businessman/grandfather for whom Daniel was named, would join Emma and Lt. Brittain here three years later in 1969. Brittain’s father would pass in 2000. I will include the obituaries of Daniel Dutrow and Warner L. “Mike” Brittain’s obituaries at the end of this article because they give context to the family and community service that this brave Marine hailed from.
During my earlier days at Frederick Cablevision’s Cable 10, I recall meeting “Mike” Brittain on a few occasions. More so, I remember Lt. Brittain’s young bride Barbara, a beautiful woman who appeared as a guest on some of our local television programs representing Families Plus, a local non-profit group of which she served as director. I assume the custom wreath with the poem is the work of Barbara, Catherine and subsequent grandchildren and family members. My hope is that they will see this “Story in Stone” one day and add information and memories about Daniel in Comment Section below as a lasting online tribute to this former Frederick native and everlasting hometown hero the likes of Key, Johnson, Fritchie, and McCardell in the next lot over.
I envy the participant who had the honor to place the Wreaths Across America wreath on Lt. Brittain’s gravesite yesterday. So much so, that later in the day, I took the wreath off, walked about 20 feet away, and then re-approached the grave. I said Daniel’s name, and gently placed our WAA wreath back on his stone. His spirit and family can take solace in knowing that at least two total strangers are remembering not only his name this weekend and throughout the holidays, but also his honorable duty and deeds in the name of our country.
I next did the same exact thing for Charles Shaw “Carl” Simpson buried 20 yards east of Lt. Brittain in Area AA’s Lot 92. Born in 1893 in Pennsylvania, Carl Simpson grew up in Frederick not far from my childhood home in Indian Springs, northwest of town. I was introduced to his life story, while writing my own for him in September 2018 entitled “An Uncertain September.”
Private Simpson was a member of the US Army’s 79th Division and served in Company L of the 313th Infantry Regiment, comprised of Maryland boys. He lost his life in eastern France during the Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 26th, 1918. Like Brittain, Simpson died far from home, but his mortal remains were brought back here to Mount Olivet, where they have been properly cared for, decorated, and remembered by not only cemetery staff, but by a selfless community of volunteers both at present and well into the future. May these volunteers continue to give of their time and thoughts by visiting the graves and saying the names of Lt. Brittain, Private Simpson and thousands of others resting in peace on Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Thanks again to all the wreath sponsors and volunteers that not only made our 5th Wreaths Across America at Mount Olivet possible, but more so, meaningful and memorable.