In the last 61 years, Richard Russell has never attended any sort of veteran's memorial event. At 84, the World War II veteran and Great Falls resident decided that the time had come for him to attend his first Memorial Day ceremony.
"I haven't been to anything other than my Bomber Group reunion," said Russell. "My daughter said ‘you ought to attend this before you get any older.’"
Russell found himself at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial on May 29, honoring the memory of soldiers who gave their lives for their country.
"I think it was very nice, and I'm glad I came," said Russell. "It was very educational."
ON MEMORIAL DAY, residents of Great Falls gathered at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial for the community's second annual Memorial Day Ceremony. The event was held by the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial and featured Congressman Frank Wolf (R-10th District) as the guest speaker.
Wolf went into the history of Memorial Day, noting that it was originally called "Decoration of Soldiers' Graves Day," and that it took place in April. It was eventually moved to May in an effort to ensure that flowers would be in full bloom for the holiday.
"We are gathered here today to remember and to honor those who died to protect our freedom, those who are missing and those who are incarcerated," said Wolf. "It's not just another holiday but a special day of commemoration and remembrance."
Wolf also mentioned Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" which pays tribute to veterans of World War II.
"But this group that is serving today is as good as any other generation," said Wolf. "I have seen them and talked to them and Brokaw can talk about the greatest generation but this generation is just as great."
The Rev. Paul Gysan of Christ the King Lutheran Church led the audience in singing "God Bless America" and the national anthem. Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Boy Scout Troop 55 raised the flags to full mast.
"As we watch those stars and stripes rise up, we are reminded of what Francis Scott Key must have felt when he sat in his cell that morning," said Gysan.
Bob Pattavina, President of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial, also reminded those in attendance to remember Detective Vicky Armel and MPO Michael Garbarino, two Fairfax County police officers that were killed in the line of duty this month.
"The loss of two of Fairfax County's finest brought the ultimate sacrifce even closer to home," said Pattavina.
Reverand Scott McAnally of Christ the King Lutheran Church said that he sees Memorial Day as a time to honor those who have died in order to protect America's freedom.
"But it's also a reminder that we have a responsibility to spread that freedom," said McAnally.
Congressman Wolf shared a quote from poet Robert Frost.
"Robert Frost said that 'America is like a rich father who wishes he knew how to give his son the hardships that made him rich,'" said Wolf. "So let us never let ourselves become spoiled and take our freedom for granted."