Today marks the 145th anniversary of Memorial Day, a day to honor those men and women, both nationally and right here in our own background, who gave their lives in the service of their country.
As a port city and former steel manufacturing hub, Baltimore has always been active during military conflicts, especially during The Big One. Baltimore was right in the thick of the Allied war effort in World War II – launching the first Liberty ship (the SS Patrick Henry, which was constructed at the Bethlehem-Fairfield yard), producing military aircraft like the B-26 Marauder at the Glenn L. Martin plant in Middle River, and training grunts and sailors alike for combat duty at facilities like Camp Holabird, Fort McHenry, Curtis Bay and elsewhere.
Baltimore was certainly “on the map” during the second world war, and Hollywood took notice, name-checking B-more for its stereotypical “Charm City” attributes in a number of films. Long before this town become synonymous with violent crime, drug peddling and urban decay in TV series like Homicide, The Wire and The Corner (not to mention prostitution – don’t forget, Tippy Hedren’s mom in Hitchcock’s Marnie was a sailor-baiting floozy), a Baltimore reference usually involved beer (our German brewing heritage long celebrated by H.L. Mencken) and crabs (both the edible kind and, later, the sexually-transmitted variety) – though in Fred Zinnemann’s post-war film The Search (1948), Montgomery Clift boasted that he was from “Baltimore, the cleanest, finest city in the United States!”
But more often than not, vets from Mobtown were vetted as legit homies by referring to our beer and seafood. One of my favorites name-checks was by native son “Pvt. Jim Layton” (played by Marshall Thompson) in William Wellman’s WWII classic Battleground (1949), in which the soldier holes up under wreckage dreaming about being “back home in Baltimore, loadin’ up on hard-shelled crabs and beer.”
His pal Holley (Van Johnson) counters, “That dream’s against regulations, soldier. You know what our boys overseas always dreams about.”
Pvt. Jim Layton: “Mom’s blueberry pie?”
Holley: “Why certainly. That’s what they’re fighting for. Boy, when I get home, just give me a hot dog and a slice of that pie. Am I gonna kick when I don’t get my job back? No siree.”
I’ve excerpted that “Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time” clip below as a fitting Memorial Day tribute to our vets and their service fighting for the Baltimore – if not the American – culinary “way of life.” Pie schmie! Crabs and beers on the homefront – it’s what got this town’s Band of Brothers through WWII!