Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD – Etched into the 104-year history of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC) are stories of sacrifice, valor, and dedication that have defined its legacy. They include moments of fate and reminders that the strength of institutions is often mirrored by the people who help build them. Cecilia Lesser’s recent visit to the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), was one such moment. Now 92 years old, she recounted the journey that led to her transformation from a “Baltimore girl” to a Gold Star wife.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, with three siblings, Cecilia was no stranger to military life. Her brother, Walter Nida, was drafted during World War II and stationed in Italy, where he was killed in action. As a Gold Star sibling, she regularly attended the non-commissioned officer (NCO) club dances that took place every Friday at Hoyle Gymnasium located at APG South, known as Edgewood Arsenal at the time. She met her late husband, Sgt. 1st Class George Lesser, Jr., at the first NCO dance she attended. “When I came through the door, he was right there,” she said. “We danced all night.”
The Edgewood military buses would transport Cecilia and her friends from the bus station in Baltimore directly to Hoyle Gym every weekend. Cecilia was able to stay in touch with George this way, but only for one night at a time. They never knew one another past the walls of the gymnasium as strict regulations forbade visitors from venturing beyond the gym doors.
However, this changed on September 7, 1950. George Lesser’s battalion, the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, received movement orders to Korea. Members of the battalion were aware of just how urgent the orders were, including George, who wasted no time in preparing Cecilia for his absence. At the following NCO dance, Cecilia recalled, “He asked me to wait for him.” At the time, she had only known George for two months. She recalled the countless stories of ‘Dear John’ letters from her brothers and told him that she could not promise that she’d be waiting for him when he got back home. “So, he took the pin off his uniform and pinned it on me,” Cecilia said of their last NCO dance together.
Within 47 days, the troops of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion arrived on the Korean Peninsula. The troops remained in combat for 1,007 days. They were never relieved, nor were they replaced. The battalion played a critical role in defeating enemy forces, being one of only two units that were in constant combat throughout the war. The battalion received four presidential citations commending them for their bravery and heroism. The valor was not without sacrifice. Many were killed in action or injured, including George Lesser who was wounded during battle in October of 1951. While recuperating in Japan from his injuries, he prepared to return home. He shipped a large set of dinnerware to Cecilia’s house. The gift arrived just in time to inform her of his arrival to the States. The pair were married soon after in December of 1951.
“I never knew what happened in Korea,” said Cecilia. “My husband never liked to talk about it.” But she was able to learn more by visiting DEVCOM CBC on August 23, 2023, the place where her story with George began.
Cecilia was invited to tour the Center’s facilities and spend time with DEVCOM CBC Director Michael Bailey. Cecilia brought two friends along during her visit. They were all greeted by Bailey and Military Deputy Col. James Polak. They were then guided through the DEVCOM CBC Visitor Center, which offered insights into the history of Edgewood Arsenal — including artifacts and images from the time her husband served there. Bailey provided a brief overview of what DEVCOM CBC is like today, sharing the Center’s current mission, to provide innovative chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive defense capabilities, as they proceeded through building.
Cecilia and her guests were later transported to Hoyle Gymnasium and dropped off at the same doors where the Edgewood Arsenal buses dropped off a young lady from Baltimore more than 70 years earlier. The original gymnasium façade remains, including the original stonework, windows, and entryway. Michael Farlow, APG’s Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator, greeted Cecilia and led her through the gym’s entrance. Walking into the renovated gym, Cecilia recalled, “The floor is different. I don’t remember these rooms being here.” While some things had changed, Cecilia’s memories within the building have remained the same. Overwhelmed with nostalgia, Lesser leaned into Farlow, who then offered her one more dance in the building where she met her late husband.
The stories of her late husband’s time in Korea were revealed, too. The accolades and duties of Sgt. 1st Class Lesser and his battalion are well-documented, surviving in the history books and landmarks of the installation. In a presentation by the DEVCOM Command Historian Richard Wiltison, Cecilia was able to take a peek at the work that her husband did while at Edgewood Arsenal and learn more about the exploits of the 2nd Chemical Battalion during the Korean conflict. Wiltison also provided excerpts of Carl Hulsman’s personal journal that were published in the Red Dragon, the official publication of the 2nd Chemical Battalion. Hulsman had served as platoon sergeant to which George was assigned. Of the commentary made by Hulsman about her husband, Cecilia said, “That sounds like George. He always talked highly about Carl.”
Surely, George Lesser had impacted Carl Hulsman just as much Hulsman impacted him. In a final journal entry, Hulsman concluded the pair’s journey from war, sharing in an excerpt:
“George Lesser visited us. He married a Baltimore girl, had three daughters, and would go on to become the motor sergeant for a battalion of semi-tractor trailer rigs in France and finally succumb to a heart attack while serving as post maintenance sergeant at Fort Holabird in Baltimore. During the conversation, George turned to my wife and said, ‘You know, we always felt safe when Carl was with us.’ There, that was my place! I wouldn’t trade his words for a Silver Star.”
Etched into history as the “Baltimore girl” who waited for a young Soldier to return from war — even when she said she wouldn’t – Cecilia Lesser returned to Aberdeen Proving Ground to learn more about legacy that she and George began in Hoyle Gym so many decades ago. She and her friends finished their day touring the installation, citing landmarks which served as reminders of those distant times, and as proof that these meaningful moments once existed, although everything else has changed.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Chemical Biological Center (CBC) is aligned under the U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) and U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM.)
AFC provides Army modernization solutions (integrated concepts, organizational designs, and technologies) in order to allow the Joint Force, employing Army capabilities, to achieve overmatch in the future operation environment. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of AFC. DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development, and delivery of technology-based capabilities to enable Soldiers to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM CBC is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering, and field operations. DEVCOM CBC is headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
|Date Posted:||10.24.2023 10:40|
|Location:||ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD, US|