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Veterans' Songs of Pride

Veterans Day at Mount Vernon Estate honors both past and present.

An all-veteran barbershop-style chorus gave a rousing patriotic concert Nov. 11, at Mount Vernon Estate. The audience not only loved it, they joined in at several points and gave The Harmony Heritage Singers a standing ovation.

Kicking off their hour-long program appropriately at 11 a.m. — the hour "the guns fell silent" marking the World War I armistice — the 35 veterans of America's wars from World War II to Vietnam performed not only patriotic numbers but also added a dose of humor with various quartet comic renditions. Their average age is 75, with Bix Doughty still belting them out at 92.

Donning a black raincoat and cap, Reston resident Doughty offered the late George Burns song "Old Bones." Having moved from Beacon, N.Y., to Virginia in 1998, Doughty, a World War II U.S. Army Air Corps officer, joined The Harmony Heritage Singers in 1999.

"In the baseball game of life we are in the seventh inning stretch except for Bix. He's into extra innings," said Mike Everard, a founding member of the chorus and its official spokesman as vice president of marketing and public relations.

Founded in 1996, they do approximately two concerts per month and are booked through March, according to Everard. "There was a lot of opportunity for daytime entertainment at a variety of venues such as nursing homes and social/club events," he said.

As a member of the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, the group has made several appearances at The White House. The total roster lists 65 members with 45 active, according to Everard.

Of all the barbershop style singing groups in Northern Virginia, The Harmony Heritage Singers is the only one that takes daytime engagements. "Our members are all retired and that doesn't pose a problem for us," Everard said.

BOB WACHTER, musical director and former U.S. Air Force Colonel, began the concert in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium with Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." They also paid a special tribute to New Orleans with a blues special.

"On Veterans day it is particularly appropriate to honor the nations that have stood with us in all our battles," Wachter said to the audience. With that the chorus sang "Waltzing Matilda" in honor of Australia and "It's A Long, Long Way To Tipperary" which dates back to World War I as a British marching song that was carried over into World War II.

A highlight of the concert was the Armed Forces Medley in which the audience was asked to stand and join in the singing as their particularly military branch song was announced. The only branch not represented by an audience member was the Marine Corps.

"We meet every week at the Sherwood Hall Regional Library. Our members are from throughout the area — Fredericksburg, Annapolis, Stafford, Potomac, Alexandria and all over," Everard said. "It was just happenstance that we are all veterans. It wasn't planned that way."

THROUGHOUT THE PROGRAM various members come forth as traditional barbershop quartets to sing specific songs coupled with humorous antics. One of the most playful was "The Smart Alex Quartet" which did a parody on "Take Me Out To the Ball Game."

There were a variety of moving numbers such as Lee Greenwood's 1985 award winner "God Bless The U.S.A." and Frank Sinatra's 1942 summation of the American dream, "The House I Live In."

Forming a chorus line across the auditorium stage, a dozen members donned extra dark sunglasses to take the audience back with their interpretation of The Beach Boys. They rounded out their Veterans Day tribute by bringing the audience into their rendition of God Bless America.

FOLLOWING THE CONCERT the harsh reality of war was brought home during the annual Veterans Day wreath laying ceremony at George Washington's Tomb. Adding a poignant tone to the event was the presence of Staff Sgt. Dale Beatty of Stateville, N.C.

Now a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Beatty, who is in his twenties, lost both legs while in combat in Iraq. He was accompanied by his wife Belinda and their two sons, Dustin 3, and Lucus, 17 months.

Joining Sgt. Beatty in placing red carnations on the tomb of the nation's first Commander In Chief were Susan Troendle, a veteran of the first Iraq war, Desert Storm, and Commander David Walton, Health Affairs Officer, in the office of the Secretary of Defense at The Pentagon.

"In this ceremony we honor all our service personnel from all our wars. General Washington's service, as well as that of his troops, was indispensable in securing our freedom," said Donald Croft, master of ceremonies and a descendent of a Revolutionary War soldier.

The annual wreath-laying ceremony is sponsored by the Sons and Daughters of The American Revolution. All veterans present were given the opportunity to place a red carnation inside the gates of the tomb. This was followed by the placement of two boxwood wreaths — one by the three participating military personnel and the other by the Boy Scouts.