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A USO Weekend

Music, exhibits and play evoke memories of WWII.

From the singing Liberty Belles at Stella's Restaurant courtyard Friday night to the Memorial Service Sunday afternoon, Alexandria not only saluted the USO but all the memories of World War II ā€” good and bad.

Saturday afternoon, singers from the Fort Myer-based U.S. Army Chorale joined other song and dance troupes to present a recreation of a USO show of the era, and on Friday night, the USO Swing Dance gave hundreds of attendees the chance to dance to jitterbug numbers of the 1940s from the Tom Cunningham Orchestra.

That same night the Radio King Orchestra filled the Old Town Theater with big band music. At both events were vocalists reminiscent of the Big Band Era and swing dance instructions for those less inclined to just follow the beat.

On a more emotional note was the two-act play entitled "Letters From The Front" staged at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Friday and Saturday nights as well as Sunday afternoon.

Starring Bobbi Kravis as Katherine Hartgrove and Bob Curren as Johnny Chastain, the play wove its way through the tragedies and comedies of life as played out during America's wars from Valley Forge to Vietnam. As Hartgrove, a successful writer, struggles to create a stage play from the letters written by soldiers in each conflict, she and her lover Chastain come face to face with their own frailties.

"NO MATTER HOW advanced the instruments of war become, the basic human emotions of the men and women who shoulder the burden of war never change," said producer Marsha Roberts. She and her writer husband, Robert Rector, were inspired to create the play by watching news stories of soldiers waiting for mail call during the 1990 Gulf War.

"World War II still strikes a deep chord with most Americans. It is a fitting backdrop for our story and a terrific framework for the presentation of powerful war correspondence," she said. That correspondence was a series of letters written to loved ones back home and from them to the soldiers involved in each of America's armed conflicts.

The letters read in the show were written by Americans on both the homefront and battlefront. "Our hope is that you will be able to feel the essence of the special people who wrote these letters, the portion of their hearts that they left on the page to become a part of our American legacy," Roberts said.

A microcosm of the entire "Alexandria Salutes ā€” A USO Weekend" was offered at Market Square Saturday afternoon. The audience was treated to renditions by the Liberty Belles, a singing trio based on The Andrews Sisters, songs by Alexandria Harmonizers' "Harmony Heritage Singers," an authentic USO Review by the U.S. Army Chorale, and The Ultimate Abbott and Costello Tribute Show.

ADDING TO the theme's authenticity were displays of WWII memorabilia and an array of U.S. Army vehicles from "The Big War." Examples could be found at both Market Square and The Lyceum.

Jim Scott of Mason Neck stood next to his restored 1942 personnel carrier which bore a large USO banner. "When I found this, it was in a farmer's field and it was in two parts with weeds growing out of it," he said.

Scott said that he belonged to several organizations that participate in a variety of World War II remembrance events. However, he added, "It's not all for displays and living history. We use the vehicles with the Young Marines," a youth group similar in nature to the Boy Scouts but based on Marine protocol.

At The Lyceum was a display of military vehicles and memorabilia assembled by the Washington Area Collectors of Military Vehicles. Scott Johns of Woodbridge brought his 1942 Jeep and an array of military and personal items indigenous to the soldiers of WWII.

It included such things as two types of canteens, an ammunition box, military-style flashlights, and a walkie talkie used to communicate on the battlefield between fighting units. "When you think about the power in today's cell phone compared to this walkie talkie it's amazing how far we have come," he said. "The best range of the walkie talkie was one mile in good conditions."

Symbolic of the unity brought about by confronting a common enemy in those war years were three retired veterans in their old uniforms sitting in the shade at The Lyceum parking lot. Col. Robert A. Shawn of Herndon; Marvin Morthimer of Temple Hills, Md.; and Marvin Chadab of the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria brought a touch of living history to the weekend.

Rounding out the official events was a memorial service at Market Square Sunday afternoon under the direction of Master of Ceremonies Joseph Shumard. It included an address by Col. William McNamara (Ret.), reading the role of veterans organizations, and the laying of a wreath in memory of those that "paid the ultimate price for freedom."