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January/February 2023 -   -  

Baltimore, Maryland, Chapter 451 in Action

Virtually since its inception in 1989, Baltimore, Maryland, Chapter 451 has been among the largest VVA chapters in the country. With membership that has at times exceeded 1,000 — and today has more than 530 members — Chapter 451 is funded chiefly by well-attended annual social events. With those funds, the chapter has extensively renovated its headquarters building over the past 30 years while maintaining a high-profile Honor Guard, awarding multiple academic scholarships, and doing much more community service work.

“Back when we first started, we did a very good job of publicizing that we were a chapter,” said Roy Brown II, Chapter 451’s president for 19 of the last 20 years. “The other thing was that at that time [the other veterans] organizations weren’t too fond of Vietnam veterans, and really didn’t push for us to join them, so a lot joined Vietnam Veterans of America.”

Chapter 451 organizes and pays for the annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day commemorations at the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Baltimore’s Middle Branch/Reedbird Parks and was instrumental in having a nearby bridge renamed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1993.

It awards four academic scholarships each year to relatives of members. Chapter members also speak about the Vietnam War at local schools, take part and organize community events — such as the annual cookout for patients and staff of the Loch Raven VA Medical Center — and run Christmas toy drives.

“You’ve got to have a purpose,” said Dennis “Doc” Noah, a chapter member almost since the beginning and 451’s longtime treasurer. “And we’ve always had a purpose of educational outreach.”

Part of this outreach has been Chapter 451’s ambitious Operation Remember, launched in 1999, which has located a photograph of each of the 1,046 Marylanders who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. It took just over seventeen years, but the late chapter member Jim Gerity tenaciously tracked down every single picture. All are now displayed on Chapter 451’s Operation Remember Wall at its headquarters and on its traveling educational trailer. The images were also sent to the Wall of Faces project of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, an initiative to locate pictures of every person whose name is inscribed on The Wall in Washington, D.C.

Like most VVA chapters, 451 has experienced shrinking membership of late as the veteran population ages. But Brown says there is a core of 40 to 50 members who participate in almost everything the chapter does, from attending meetings to selling tickets for fundraisers. Plus, the chapter has taken steps to encourage active membership.

“A lot of people said they couldn’t drive at night, so we changed our meeting time,” Brown said. “And we serve meals at our meetings… I think that’s a thing that gets people to come out.”


The chapter’s early meetings were held at Baltimore Rowing Club and later in a nondescript city basement. In the early 1990s, the chapter started leasing the old Fort Holabird Officers Club from the City of Baltimore for a nominal fee, on the condition that it maintained the building. As the structure was long derelict, an enormous effort was required just to make it functional.

“It’s a very expensive undertaking,” Noah said. “We’ve improved everything — wiring, plumbing, heating — and replaced the roof at least twice.”

Noah, a former international banker, estimates that Chapter 451 has invested the equivalent of some $3 million into the impressive stone building, which originally had its own swimming pool. But much of that was in the form of in-kind donations and volunteer labor from members.

“We had people working almost 24 hours a day to do that,” said Brown, who served as a radio operator with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1967-68. “That place was a wreck.”

The chapter has been consistently imaginative and resourceful. At one point, for example, it traded an old bus that a member procured from his job at the Port of Baltimore to a contractor in return for the materials and a foreman for a roof replacement, with members providing the labor.


One big factor in maintaining public awareness has been the chapter’s unusually active Honor Guard, which formed in 1992. “At the time we actually had a stated objective, to remind the public of its obligation to Vietnam veterans and all veterans,” said Noah, one of the unit’s original members. “We’re a visible reminder.”

In 2000, Chapter 451 provided the Honor Guard for President Bill Clinton at a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. It has participated in the pre-game ceremony at every Baltimore Ravens home game at the 70,000-capacity M&T Bank Stadium since the NFL team was established in 1996.

“We get an ovation,” Noah, a Navy corpsman with the 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam, said last December. “Recently they actually had us stand in the middle of the field and introduced us each individually.”

Such visibility has helped Chapter 451 with fundraising, which centers on annual events such as crab feasts and bull roasts. They are so popular that the events long ago outgrew the chapter’s 250-capacity headquarters and now attract up to 700 diners at rented facilities. These events, now held twice a year, remain — alongside donations and occasional bequests — the chapter’s primary source of funds.

The chapter obtained a Huey chopper from the nearby U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it was being used for target practice. Meticulously restored and displayed next to its chapter building, the UH-1M gunship, a Vietnam War veteran itself, was long a centerpiece of the chapter’s outreach and educational activities. However, because of repeated vandalism, it was relocated to the Glenn L Martin Maryland Aviation Museum in Middle River, Md., in 2014.

Chapter 451 gained further exposure when Maryland Public Television interviewed many of its members, including Noah, for a three-part Maryland War Stories documentary in 2016. The Honor Guard and Huey were later featured in Maryland Public Television’s huge “LZ Maryland” event honoring Vietnam War veterans at Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium that summer.




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