It was the real deal Tuesday at the St. Clement's Island-Potomac River Museum at Colton's Point, a commemoration on the actual date when in 1634 some 140 settlers under Lord Baltimore landed at the island a half-mile offshore. March 25 has been Maryland Day since 1903 but, like many federal holidays, it has grown, unofficially, to include other days as well -- except at Colton's Point.

The colony's proprietors were English Catholics facing persecution, so Maryland Day is usually a happy occasion when Southern Marylanders recall the colony's role in establishing freedom of religion in America. But this year's event was a sober, bittersweet affair because of the war in Iraq and the retirement of Michael D. Humphries, the museum's director for 28 years.

Humphries, a former Marine who was the recipient of several proclamations, citations and kind words, told his listeners, "This time we need to reflect on what's happening in the world and dedicate Maryland Day to all our troops serving us now in Iraq, especially the troops from Maryland, and especially the U.S. Marine Corps."

Recalling the scene played out on the Potomac 369 years ago, St. Mary's County Commissioner Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large), president of the board of county commissioners, spoke of "the courage of these brave travelers." But he said they were "no more heroic than the men and women who today voyage to a far-off land to protect those same freedoms."

About 100 attended this year's official event. They included several local politicians, teenagers in Colonial costumes and American Legion members.

They spoke from a stage with the Potomac River glistening behind them and St. Clement's Island clearly visible. Monsignor John Brady, of Holy Angels Church in Avenue, ended the ceremonies, noting again that this is "a day of battle for members" of the armed forces.

"God, keep them safe," he said. "They're risking their lives to continue the blessings of religious freedom and toleration born here 369 years ago."

The day also marked the opening of a new exhibit in the 1820 "little red schoolhouse" moved to the museum complex in 1990. Dubbed "The Humphries Exhibit," it is an eclectic collection of artifacts as varied as a Civil War uniform, an 18th-century pistol, a World War II helmet and old-fashioned school desks.