- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Idolia Shubrooks was a curious little girl. She couldn’t wait for her parents to head to the store so she could climb up a chest of drawers and make her way into an opening in the ceiling with her “nosy little brother.”
Together, they’d sneak into a dark, old attic to peek at her grandfather’s Civil War musket, which her mother told her had been safely tucked away there.
Over the years, the house was demolished and she later lost that musket in a house fire. But a few things never succumbed to time — her love for her grandfather, whom she only knew through that “ugly, old gun” — and documents she found in a box containing his war papers. She holds onto a respect for his military service and a deeply rooted gratefulness for what all veterans sacrifice “to keep us safe.”
Shubrooks will join members of the United Committee for Afro-American Contributions and other members of the community for a public Veterans Day ceremony scheduled Sunday, Nov. 10, at 2 p.m, during which the group will lay wreaths at the United States Colored Troops Civil War Monument in nearby John G. Lancaster Park. The event will begin at the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department where several guests are invited to speak, including Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), who committee members say was instrumental in securing funding for the monument.
“It takes a real, real brave, Christian-hearted, loving person to go out and lay their lives on the line,” Shubrooks said. “We want to give thanks to all those who have said, ‘I am willing to lay down my life to protect my fellow man.’
“I am so, so proud of those men and women in uniform. Because without them, where would we be?” Shubrooks asked. “We can lay down and slumber at night because of them. We are free because of them. Anybody who knows a veteran should say thank you.”
Shubrooks’ grandfather, Pvt. Alexander Armstrong, was among about 700 “sons of St. Mary’s” who served in the Civil War, said Nathaniel Scroggins, a retired Navy veteran who helped research hundreds of names that were engraved onto plaques installed on the monument Monday to honor those who fought for the Union. The monument itself was installed last year.
The ceremony Sunday is an opportunity for people to look at the present and remember the past, said Janice Walthour, also a member of the United Committee for Afro-American Contributions. Her father, Fred Talbert, served in the Army. “Look at the monument,” she said. “See if there are any family names are on there.”
Like other war memorials here, names are separated by race, white and black, a reflection of the segregated times during which the warriors served. Scroggins said there are more names of black soldiers because many slaves were handed over to support war efforts.
Three men remembered on the memorial, Pvt. William H. Barnes and Sgt. James H. Harris, who were black, and Joseph B. Hayden, who was white, earned the Medal of Honor. They have special recognition at the memorial, with brief explanations of their service, which included gallantry in battle outside of Maryland.
All of those honored at Lancaster Park had to be born in St. Mary’s, and the committee had to prove it. Members worked with historical societies around the nation to find birth and service records. They sent out emails to find descendants of the servicemen, they hosted fundraisers and obtained a grant to bring in more than $200,000 to complete the project. It was an effort of whites and blacks today to honor ancestors and fellow countians who served during a much different time.
“There’s so much forgotten history about who they were and what they did,” Scroggins said. “It’s not easy getting all this done.” But, this labor of love that started in 2009 has come to fruition. How? “I guess it was the enthusiasm that Mrs. Shubrooks brought to the organization,” Scroggins said.
Shubrooks had a dream to memorialize her grandfather’s contribution, and to honor all veterans. Her curiosity as a girl paid off, she said. Years after those sneak peeks into that attic, her mother had given her a box that contained remnants of her grandfather’s life. She went through all those papers, too, and eventually took the contents to local historians to put the pieces together.
“I thought it was the greatest day of my life when I found out what it meant,” she said. It was her only connection to her grandfather. And when she found out how he’d suffered as a slave, it struck a chord that ran deep.
“I almost could have put a face on it because I became so involved with it,” she said. Shubrooks also learned that Armstrong played the bugle for the USCT, and she found a card that he’d written his wife.
“Those people tilled the soil, those people went onto fight for their country. Those people deserved that monument,” she said. “I was inspired to do something as an educational tool for not only children, but for everyone.”