- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The war over what our new elementary school should be named is nearing an end. The St. Mary’s County Board of Education is poised to soon make a decision, climaxing weeks of wrangling over name suggestions that include everything from slave plantations to war heroes.
In this brief history lesson lies the closing arguments for why a building that will nurture young Maryland minds deserves to be named after a war hero.
It is six weeks after the Declaration of Independence, and it is Gen. George Washington’s first time in charge of our newly formed U.S. Army in battle. He is outnumbered by a ration of 3-to-1 and has been flanked on all sides. Our country is crumbling. On the field are 400 Marylanders under Gen. William Smallwood of Charles County. They are led by Lord Sterling, a British lord who is now a proud American.
They turn and attack the center of the British line, not once, but six times, allowing the American Army to escape and to fight yet another day. Nine of the 400 men made it back to the lines. With half of the British Navy anchored in front of Staten Island, the British could have easily cut off the East River and George Washington would have been hanged as a traitor. Maryland held the line of battle, leading Washington to dub Maryland “The Old Line State.” Gen. Washington wept as he gave us this name on Aug. 27, 1776. Mason and Dixon had nothing to do with it.
The War of 1812 was particularly hard on Maryland’s population. The British had the largest Navy in the world and used the Chesapeake as their own lake to raid our “turnip patches,” as President James Madison referred to our land. Maryland had the second highest number of engagements during this war behind New York. Gen. Leonard Covington from Aquasco died as a result of injuries received in Canada, and he has 21 towns and counties named after him. Joshua Barney and Stephen Decatur were two of Maryland’s great naval heroes.
In World War I, Lt. George B. Redwood was a Marine scout and the first Marylander killed, and he has a street named after him in Baltimore. There were three St. Mary’s County residents that died on the same day in 1917 at Fort Meade from influenza.
Maryland’s top air ace in World War II was Capt. Walter Francis Duke from Leonardtown, with 16 confirmed kills. He joined the Canadian Air Force to fight the Nazis a year before Pearl Harbor. He transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps after we entered the war. He was shot down on D-Day half a world away in Burma. He was missing in action in the jungle for 69 years. Recently remains believed to be his were discovered; if confirmed he will be brought home and laid to rest a half a mile from the new school site.
He was shot down after a dogfight between P-38 Lightnings and Japanese Zeros had concluded and they were on their way home, Capt. Duke could not find his wingman. He returned to look for his friend, only to have to face a dozen fierce Zeros by himself. His twin engine plane was faster than those of the Japanese and he could have easily turned and ran. Instead, he took them head on, downing three more before being shot down. His last radio transmission was, “I’m going home.”
The school board will meet Wednesday, March 13, at 9 a.m. in the board of education building on Moakley Street in Leonardtown. If you ever ate, drank, or had fun at Duke’s, or if you were ever in the military or even respect what price our soldiers and their families pay for your freedom, please come let the board hear your voice. Let’s welcome Capt. Walter Francis Duke home properly.
Jonathan Beasley, Budds Creek