A few months back, I wrote a “Story in Stone” to help commemorate the 75th anniversary of “V-J Day” (victory over Japan Day). It featured the gravesites and associated stories of just a handful of our 4,000+ veterans buried within Mount Olivet. This was a great early prelude to the annual events we acknowledge here at the cemetery this late time of the year—Veterans Day and Wreaths Across America Day. Veterans Day, as always, is November 11th and originated with Armistice Day, the official surrender of the enemy during World War I on November 11th, 1918.
We take the opportunity to plant flaglets on the graves of veterans throughout the cemetery, a task which has also been performed by the local American Legion on Memorial Day. Wreaths Across America is a national program that grew out of Arlington National Cemetery and began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath of Maine found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Today, over 2,100 cemeteries in all 50 states participate in this amazing endeavor.
Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day in that it celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who had died while in military service. In either case, you can never thank these people and fellow Americans enough because they are incredibly special, and most are equally humble about their service. They leave their families and put their health, safety and lives on the line for one reason—to fight for our country, and for our freedom. In a world of selfishness, these have already, or are currently putting our needs before their own. Without Veterans Day, many Americans would forget them and the sacrifices they made. Sadly, many don’t care or are too stupid to even understand that freedom isn’t free.
With the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, I wanted to put the spotlight on the several hundreds of local men and women buried in Mount Olivet who served in this conflict. Although not here in our cemetery, my grandfather was career Army and served in World War II. He saw action in France and Germany as part of the Battle of the Bulge, unfortunately getting captured near a town named Kesternich in December, 1944. He would spend months in German POW camps. However, he was fortunate enough to return to the states and tell his tale. His wife's brother (my great uncle) was not so lucky, killed as part of a tank division in eastern France and resting in peace at Lorraine National Cemetery in St. Avold, France.
This week, I commend all the Mount Olivet vets, but especially those who participated in World War II. As representative of those amazing patriots, I'd like to feature a few more of those buried beneath our World War II Memorial in Area EE. This was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1948 and also serves as the site of our Wreaths Across America kickoff ceremony each year.
We have 30 soldiers buried here, and I have chronicled 14 of them over the past four years in which I have been writing this weekly blog. Thanks to the tireless efforts of my assistant Sylvia Sears, I will share with you brief biographies on six more of these men—all having made the ultimate sacrifice. And instead of me writing biographies here, I will let old newspaper clippings and photographs tell their stories.
FRANKLIN EUGENE BAKER
Franklin E. Baker was in his mid-thirties when he lost his life in Paris, France during the summer of 1945. The former Frederick businessman resided on the east side of town and owned a taxicab business and a tobacco shop. He took up the fight, enlisting at Fort Meade on April 11th, 1944. Baker soon found himself in Europe after training in South Carolina.
The infantry soldier apparently received a wound in battle which hampered him afterwards. He joined the Visitors Bureau of the US Armed Forces. In August of 1945, PFC Baker died in a military hospital while recuperating from a previous wound. Four years later, his body would be returned to Frederick, and a solemn funeral service took place at Mount Olivet Cemetery on August 4th, 1949.
NORMAN MONROE WACHTER
From one "Baker" to another, Norman M. Wachter left his job at the G & L Bakery in Frederick for the European Theater. While serving as a private in the 135th Infantry of the 34th Division, he survived fighting in North Africa. In May, 1944, he would be killed in battle on the beach at Anzio, Italy.
Monroe Elwood Hossler
This Mountaindale native worked for Frederick Iron & Steel before joining the Army in April, 1943. He would serve in the 397th Infantry. Ten days before the launch of the Germans "Battle of the Bulge," Pvt. "Tom" Hossler would lose his life in France on December 5th, 1944.
Richard Fleming, Jr.
A last name that appears in several places within Downtown Frederick, this decedent had nothing to do with nearby locales such as Fleming Avenue, once part of a farmstead owned by the family of the same name. I soon realized that I pass his former home regularly as I drive through Baker Park. Richard Fleming, a native of Illinois, enlisted in the service before he was 18, and was accepted to various officer training programs but settled on the University of Florida. He made his way to Europe by sea in late November, 1944. Fleming was captured by the Germans on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 16th, 1944). He spent the remaining months of his life in a series of German POW camps, where he developed pneumonia and was released to a hospital in Germany, and then sent to England.
Sharing the Fleming name, this gentleman was no known relation and hailed from Carroll County. As a member of the 357th infantry, he saw heavy fighting in early 1945 as the Allies pushed across the Siegfried Line into Germany. He would lose his life at age 24 as a result of flying shrapnel from an enemy artillery shell. This occurred at a place called Winterspelt (Germany), near the Belgian-Germany border, not far from the famed St. Vith.
I found this passage in George von Roeder's Regimental History of the 357th, and it sheds a little light on the scene PFC Fleming found himself at the time of his death:
"On the 29th (January), the 2nd battalion crossed the Our River in the face of heavy machine gun and mortar fire and took up positions on the high ground to the west. The Regiment was now deployed in three countries: Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany (the Our River marked the western German boundary). The remainder of the Division was attacking to the northeast and the mission of the 357th was to protect the Division’s right flank and block from that direction.
On the 6th of February, the 357th was relieved by elements of the 6th Armored Division and moved northeast into Germany to an assembly area in the vicinity of Winterspelt. This was where the Siegfried line began, as well as some more hard fighting. The Division now had the job of driving through these fortifications. The initial attack during the night of the 7th gained some ground due to surprise and the advantage of darkness, but the dawn brought a deluge of fire from all types of weapons, firing from pillboxes seemingly located everywhere. The ensuing days brought a series of actions, fierce in nature and difficult to record.
German artillery and Nebelwerfer fire was heavy and accurate, causing many casualties. The pillboxes were well constructed and expertly placed. Whole platoons of the infantrymen disappeared as a result of a German tactic of giving up a pillbox easily, then subjecting it to artillery and mortar fire, forcing the attackers inside for shelter. It was then simply a matter of covering the doorway with fire, surrounding the pill box after dark, and blowing it in. This tactic that was short lived, however, and the men soon learned that it was safer outside of the fortifications than inside. The Germans learned this to as well-placed satchel charges blew their shelters to bits."
Garland Z. Hightman
Early in the war, Garland Z. Hightman served as the Chief Clerk of the local Frederick Draft Board. He held this post until, he, himself was inducted into the military. After attending various training camps, he was sent to Europe. Not more than six months there, while serving with the Coast Artillery Corps, Hightman was seriously injured when the vehicle he was traveling in hit a roadside land mine in Holland. He would die ten days later.
Garland went to Baltimore to enlist his services in the military on July 19th, 1943.
On this Veterans Day, 2020, thanks and praise once again should go to all of these men, and the 4,000 other men and women resting in peace in Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery.