On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a group gathered at Fort Belvoir. Just like millions of people during the past century have done at sites all around the nation this group gathered to celebrate Veterans Day.
They honored veterans by holding a Blue Star Memorial Wreath Laying Ceremony. Originally erected and dedicated on Sept. 17, 1990, this memorial was rededicated last week after it was moved from Pence Gate to Lieber Gate. The memorial serves as a reminder of all those who have served in the military and sacrificed so that others can enjoy freedom. It is one of many that have been placed on highways throughout the county since 1944 by groups to serve as a memorial to all military past, present and future. This particular one designates the portion of Richmond Highway U.S. Route 1 from the Occoquan Bridge to the junction of Richmond Highway with State Highway 235 as “A Blue Star Memorial Highway.”
“We used to do the ceremonies at Pence Gate, but after 9-11 there was no parking,” said Don Carr, director of public affairs. “The historian [Gus Person] and I were talking and I said, I wonder how people would feel if we moved the plaque.”
Carr said that they spoke to the state historian about moving it and he said it was fine. The plaque was then moved and this year’s ceremony served as a rededication to the plaque. Prior to the move, the ceremony was held elsewhere and then the commander and garden club president placed the wreath on the plaque.
“That was anticlimactic,” Carr said. “It’s back to where we can have the entire event intact.”
THIS YEAR’S CEREMONY was as much a commemoration to the many veterans as it was to Paula Cushing, a former Fort Belvoir Officers’ Wives Garden Club member, who advocated to erect the lasting memorial to all those who have served in the Armed Forces.
While Cushing spoke at the 1990 dedication, she was not able to share in this event. Cushing died on Sept. 23, 2005. In her welcome remarks, Rosanne McGaha, Fort Belvoir Garden Club President, said that she was sure that Paula was smiling down on them.
“This is the result of one woman’s perseverance,” McGaha said. “Paula Cushing generated the interest and support of the garden club, Fort Belvoir and elected officials. She led the effort to petition the governor and legislators.”
The process took about two years, said Jo Sellers, who received the president’s gavel from Cushing in 1988. When Cushing stepped down, she told Sellers that she was going to work on getting the plaque and it wasn’t until near the end of Sellers’ two-year term that it came about.
“She just kept at it — when she turned the gavel over, she said she was going to work on the marker — it took two years. We were the first ones to lay the wreath,” Sellers said. “This [rededication] is a trip down Memory Lane.”
Also present were about a dozen members of the garden club. McGaha said that they currently have around 40 members. The club started in 1937 and is still very active.
“We’ve been on the post for 68 years,” McGaha said. “We installed hundreds of azaleas and magnolias — that’s why we’re called the ‘Magnolia Post.’ We’ve done many wonderful projects and we continue to honor the veterans. We also do Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I am honored to represent the club.”
Cushing’s family members plan to attend next year’s Memorial Day observance when another plaque honoring Cushing will be placed near the Blue Star Memorial.
COLONEL BRIAN W. LAURITZEN SAID, “Mrs. Cushing, through her commitment, helped preserve our connection with those who fight for freedom. Although she has died, her legacy remains. Mrs. Cushing, we’ll take it from here.”
Lauritzen also used that last phrase when talking about the painting of the firefighter handing the American flag to a soldier out of the ashes of the World Trade Center after 9-11. The caption reads, “We’ll take it from here.”
He referred to this caption during a breakfast held earlier in the week by the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, saying, “That phrase embodies the principles we celebrate on Veterans Day.”
“This year we celebrate 230 years of proud history fighting for and preserving a nation’s freedom,” Lauritzen said.
“We can trace the lineage of the American veteran from Washington’s trip across the Delaware River through our American Civil War to World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War and now Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
About 50 people attended the Veterans Day Breakfast held at the Officers’ Club. It was the first such event, but Holly Dougherty, executive director of the chamber, anticipates that this will become an annual event based on its success.
Recognized at the breakfast was NCO of the Year, Sgt. Karen Antonyan, and Soldier of the Year, SFC Elizabeth Bitle. The program concluded with the showing of “The Soldier,” a film created by the U.S. Army Band.