Sixty years ago, Alexandria was a very different place. The Torpedo Factory was just that — a wartime factory. Jones Point was not a recreation/dog park. It was a shipyard.
America and the Allied Forces were about to turn the tide of World War II's European Theater with the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Instead of being a tourist destination, Alexandria was home to three USO halls where the order of the day, for nearly four long war years, was "Keep 'em Smiling."
During September, 1944 alone, nearly 15,000 military service personnel were entertained at the USO. Now those days are about to be recreated as Alexandria and the entire region pays tribute to "America's Greatest Generation."
It all begins on Memorial Day weekend with the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., May 29. That will kick off 100 days of special events, exhibitions, performances, dedications and tours throughout Northern Virginia.
"It is predicted that more than a million visitors above the two million who normally visit will come to the region this summer," said Jo Anne Mitchell, president and CEO, Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association. "We are extending a warm invitation to those visitors to include Alexandria in their plans."
Due to the expected crush on the Mall, two large screen televisions will be erected in separate areas of the GW Masonic Temple in Alexandria on May 29, to show the actual dedication ceremony of the just completed memorial. Admission will be free.
ON THAT SAME DAY, Mount Vernon Estate will initiate their "100 Days of Celebration" by welcoming veterans to lay a wreath at the tomb of America's first Commander In Chief, sign a guest book, and receive commemorative information on the Purple Heart Award. Wreath laying will occur at 2 p.m. daily throughout the summer until Labor Day.
"The Purple Heart was established by George Washington during the Revolutionary War to honor enlisted soldiers as well as officers," said Emily Coleman, assistant marketing director, Mount Vernon Estate. "Because Washington created the award, Mount Vernon has been declared the official start of the National Purple Heart Trail."
On May 30, Mount Vernon Estate will host a "Musical salute to World War II Veterans." The all day concert will feature visiting bands, choirs and orchestras from throughout the nation.
For jazz aficionados, the 27th Annual Memorial Day Jazz Festival will be held at Fort Ward Park, 4301 Braddock Road, Alexandria, May 31. From 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Army Blues Jazz Ensemble, the Village Jazz Band, Doc Dickman Big Band and others will perform.
Two special events directly tied to "The Big War," are the docking of the LST-325 Memorial Ship, at Robinson Terminal 1, at the foot of Oranoco Street from June 25 to July 1, and the Little Theatre of Alexandria's presentation of the award winning musical "Cabaret," from July 23 through August 14.
LST-325 saw action in the Mediterranean and off North Africa in 1943 and was part of the Normandy invasion force at Omaha Beach, on D-Day. It is staffed by a crew that includes WWII veterans that served aboard LST's.
ALEXANDRIA FESTIVITIES that begin May 27 and run through the summer include:
*Gadsby's Tavern Through the Legion Years. This exhibit focuses on the years 1927-1972 when American Legion Post 24 owned Gadsby's Tavern.
*World War II Art Exhibit at Old Town Theater. Works of art by Harold A. Laynor, a member of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers Battalion, known as the "Ghost Army" of World War II.
*Alexandria at War, 1941-1945, The lyceum, Alexandria's History Museum. Exhibit focuses on Alexandria's citizens' contributions to the war effort, both as civilians and military. Artifacts include items from the Red Cross and Torpedo Factory.
Alexandria's prime "100 Day Celebration" will occur on the weekend of July 16 to 18. Under the title "Alexandria Salutes A USO Weekend," there will be three days of music, entertainment, exhibits, theater and remembrance.
It swings into action at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 16, with an outdoor performance of the Liberty Belles, a 1940's era trio reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters, at Stella's Restaurant courtyard, 1725 Duke Street. Saturday they will perform at Market Square at noon and 5 p.m.
Later Friday evening, there will be a World War II Swing Dance at the Torpedo Factory Art Center with music by the Tom Cunningham Orchestra. It will include performances by the Liberty Belles and Tom and Debra Swing Dancers.
For the nondancers, there are two performances that same evening, both beginning at 8 p.m. Old Town Theater will present "Of Thee I Swing," a musical journey of timeless and romantic music by Radio King Orchestra's Big Band and Flying Fleet Enterprises. Playing both the 16th and 17th, it encompasses sultry vocals, virtuoso arrangements and hot rhythms, according to ACVA.
At the Masonic Temple, a three act play entitled "Letters From the Front: WWII," will be presented Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, July 18, at 2 p.m. It tells a poignant and funny story of the home front in 1945.
INTERWOVEN INTO the story are actual letters written during every major American conflict dating back to the Revolutionary War. It is a tribute to all who have served and those who have loved them. Tickets are required for both the play and musical event at the Old Town Theater.
On July 17, there will be two concerts by military musical groups. At 7:30 p.m., the U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra will perform at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Center, 3001 N. Beauregard Street. Beginning at 7 p.m., a Military Band Concert will be presented at King Street Gardens under the auspices of Alexandria's cultural activities department. Both are free.
Wrapping up the weekend, a World War II Remembrance Memorial Service will be held at Market Square from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. World War II military organizations will join with active duty and reserve military groups to host this event to thank all U.S. active duty and retired military for their service to the nation.
For those still longing for that 40's music, the Liberty Belles will make their final appearance at Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Avenue, on July 18, from 1 to 2 p.m.
"We are looking for corporate sponsorships to underwrite the entertainment so that we can make as many of the events as possible free," said Laura Overstreet, vice president, Communications, ACVA. "Sponsors will be recognized in all our marketing as well as on our web site.
The entire weekend of events is a joint effort between ACVA and a host of business and civic organizations as well as members of the Alexandria tourism industry. Serving as official chairman of "Alexandria Salutes A USO Weekend" will be City Councilman Ludwig Gaines.
For complete details visit the ACVA web site at www.funside.com or contact Katherine Caldwell at 703-838-4200 Ext 211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.