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Memorial Day Tradition Continues

For the past 74 years, the School community has gathered to remember members of the McDonogh Family who gave their lives in service to our country. The traditional ceremony includes somber music, the story of a McDonogh alumnus who sacrificed his life for our freedom, the reading of The McDonogh Uniform, the laying of a wreath at the memorial, and the playing of Taps. The 2020 Memorial Day Ceremony on Thursday, May 21 included all of these elements but one--students, faculty, alumni, and trustees standing in silence at Memorial Court. This year, they watched the meaningful ceremony from home.

The virtual ceremony began with a rendition of Finlandia by the Upper School Strings and a warm welcome from Head of School Dave Farace ‘87. Following the invocation, which was introduced by Luke Wagner ’21, Farace took a moment to remember retired McDonogh Athletic Director, Ed Novak who passed away in April.

After the Lower School Choir sang When the Angels Call Me Home, the ceremony continued with a remembrance by Bridget Collins ‘90, The Charles W. Britton Director of Character and Service. She shared the story of Harry Howard Hedges, a graduate of the McDonogh Class of 1900 whose name is etched on the Memorial stone. Harry or “Hash” as he was known at McDonogh, served in World War I and lost his life in France in 1918. Collins quoted excerpts from 18 years of correspondence between Hedges and his mentor, Headmaster Duncan Campbell Lyle, who kept in touch with many alumni of the time. Lyle proudly shared their news in The Week, which he faithfully sent “every single Friday to all of the McDonogh Boys who were serving.”

The remembrance of Hedges became all the more poignant when Collins said, “On September 10, 1918, Harry wrote a letter to Mr. Lyle. In it, he credited all of the training and discipline he’d learned at McDonogh for preparing him for the physical and mental challenges of war. Mr. Lyle responded to Harry’s letter on October 18, 1918. In the letter, Lyle wrote: ‘You've read of “the Flu’ over here. It's playing the devil. Even in the [training] camps alone, it has killed more soldiers in a few weeks then the Germans have accounted for since America entered the war. 15 cases among the boys here [at McDonogh]. Strict quarantine. No school. Boys work out all day. No church, no Chapel, no movies, no gathering of any sort, except at meals. No casualties as yet, but we are uneasy of course. The epidemic seems to have reached flood tide. We'll have weeks of it yet, though.’”

Collins continued, “McDonogh would be quarantined for one month (October 9-November 9) and all interscholastic games were canceled. What Mr. Lyle couldn’t know, as he wrote that letter, was that Harry had contracted the Flu and died of pneumonia in Evacuation Field Hospital 16 in Revigny, France on October 16, 1918.” Read the full story here.

Collins remarked, “I never knew that McDonogh had closed and quarantined during the Flu Pandemic of 1918. And here we are facing a similar overwhelming and challenging experience. Harry’s story reminds us of the bravery and the incredible sacrifice so many made ‘to make the world safe for democracy.’ And Harry’s story gives us hope, that this too shall pass. That the world and our McDonogh has endured a pandemic before and we will be together person with hearts even more aware of our blessings and the gift of this community.”

Before the laying of the wreath at the monument, Barry Rollins ‘64 and students, Cecily Pokigo ‘21, Sophie Scherz, ‘24, and Vivienne A. ‘28, each in their own homes, recited a stanza of The McDonogh Uniform, written by Eustace Glascock, a member of the McDonogh Class of 1879. Its most powerful line, “We give something more than we take,” has become the McDonogh motto.

Then, with the American flag blowing in the breeze, Dr. Kevin Costa played the ceremonial bugle call, Taps, after which, Faith Cooper ’21 introduced the benediction. In her closing, Collins said, “At this time in our world when there is so much illness and fear, thank you for soldiers, nurses, doctors, hospital staff, and people in service industries who have risked their lives in the fight against the coronavirus. May we vow to make their sacrifice worth it, by making our own lives a light to others. Help us to work to make this world a better...more loving and peaceful place. May ‘our deeds be our monuments built by memories instead of stone.’”