Tears, song, remembrances mark Baltimore-area rallies

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People throughout the Baltimore area joined yesterday in rallies of remembrance, prayer and patriotism - and to sing, to cry and just to be with each other- as rescue efforts in New York and Washington yielded little hope of more survivors in the rubble of last week's terrorist attacks.

More than 2,000 flag-waving Social Security Administration employees assembled at the federal agency's Woodlawn headquarters for a boisterous rally, complete with bagpipers, cheering and singing.

A more subdued gathering took place at Anne Arundel Community College, and last night at the state fairgrounds in Timonium, a flag-waving crowd of about 1,000 crammed the 4-H building, forming an undulating sea of red, white, and blue.

The most unusual in the area yesterday seemed to be the turnout of more than 100 military veterans in Harford County - including an octogenarian - to take the oath of service in a heartfelt but mock re-enlistment.

At Social Security headquarters, a courtyard was filled with red, white and blue balloons. Many employees enthusiastically waived flags, sang patriotic songs, and wore T-shirts that read: "God Bless America, Never Forget September 11, 2001."

"It's good to know everybody feels the same way," said statistician Sharon Johnson, a 27-year veteran of the federal agency. "It's not very much that brings us together. We're usually fighting among ourselves. We're not now."

When they sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," Kary Dyer, a deaf employee who works as a personnel management specialist, gave a moving performance in sign language.

When she came to the end of the song, she expressed "home of the brave" with clenched fists beating skyward.

Expediting claims

Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Larry G. Massanari announced that the agency is expediting claims for survivors of the dead, and for those disabled in the attacks, with the first checks to be disbursed by October.

"Many victims left young families, and I know we needed to get money into their hands," he said.

At Anne Arundel Community College's Arnold campus, the school's president, Martha A. Smith, told students and faculty members gathered in a small courtyard that the most important question is, "What can I do?"

"It is an answer that is resounding throughout our college community, our neighborhoods and our nation, and it is this: Oppose hatred, oppose intolerance," Smith said. "Hatred, acted upon, is evil. We cannot, we must not return evil for evil."

Smith read a letter to the college's student newspaper from Noreen Zaman, who describes herself as an American Muslim.

"Muslims all over the world are against any form of terrorism," Zaman wrote, also noting that Muslims were among Tuesday's victims. "The killing of innocent civilians and of oneself is strictly prohibited in Islam, as stated in our Holy Book, the Qur'an."

Many students said a somber mood has overtaken the campus, and they're finding it difficult to concentrate on their work.

"I came out because I wanted to be with people," said Amy Kirby, 19, of Glen Burnie. "For most of us, the biggest thing we can do is remember and stay united."

"United We Stand" was the theme of last night's rally in Timonium, whose media and community sponsors included The Sun.

Two firetrucks - one from the Providence Volunteer Fire Company, the other from Brooklandville Station 14 - formed a "ladder arch" across the fairgrounds entrance road, with a giant American flag at the peak rolling in a gentle breeze.

Joseph E. Benham, president of the Providence company, said the display is typically used during funerals and ceremonial occasions.

Music and dignitaries

Inside the building, the crowd was dense - many standing in the back of the large room, trying to glimpse the speakers on stage. There were music by a harpist, and brief patriotic remarks by Mayor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Slowly waving a small American flag, 6-year-old Montre Tilman sat on the shoulders of Juan Edwards, 18, as both listened to the Morgan State University choir sing a stirring rendition of "God Bless America." Tilman and Edwards were part of a delegation from Mount Calvary AME Church in Towson.

Like a scene earlier at the community college, people wrote prayers and thoughts on several banners placed around the perimeter of the room.

Bill M. Reilly, a member of Iron Workers Local 16, scribbled a short message: "God Bless America, from Local 16." Members of Iron Workers Local 40, based in New York, are the men and women cutting through the collapsed beams that once supported the World Trade Center.

In Harford County, the veterans were brought together by the images of destruction they've seen for a week on television, and a deep desire to help out.

Otis Redmond, 84, eyed the gathering crowd from the steps of the Bel Air Armed Forces Recruiting Station. His campaign hat was tucked tightly under his chin, and his riding pants, boots and spurs fit smartly - just as they did in 1936 when he joined the Army. His khaki shirt was the one he wore when he retired in 1966 as a master sergeant.

Redmond and the others mostly stood in formation, at least eight deep and 13 or more across, along with several in wheelchairs who came by bus from the Perry Point Veterans Administration Hospital in Cecil County to take the military oath.

"They've already served their time," said Army recruiter Capt. Michael Anlage. "This was a symbolic gesture on their part, some patriotic Americans just trying to show support."

They gathered and recognized men from each war. They prayed, read poems and shared their feelings about what last week's attacks mean for Americans.

"We keep hearing now about how we're going to see an America we've never seen," said Blair E. Cross, a Korean War veteran. "I think what we're going to see is an America we used to see."

Sun staff writers Lane Harvey Brown and Michael Scarcella contributed to this article.

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