There is an old saying "Eagles don't flock. You have to find them one at a time." That could also be said of the 3,462 recipients of this nation's highest military recognition — the Congressional Medal of Honor. Only 111 are still living.
Monday morning at the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association Annual Meeting, kicking off Alexandria's Presidents Day celebration, that special singularism was no where more evident than in the keynote address by Lt. Gen. Robert E. Foley, USA (Ret).
Captain Foley was awarded that national honor for bravery "above and beyond the call of duty" for his actions in Vietnam on November 5, 1966. He received his medal from President Lyndon B. Johnson in a White House ceremony May 1, 1968.
Standing 6 feet, 7 inches and straight as an arrow, General Foley, an Alexandria resident, remains a formidable figure. But, as he noted in his address, "Recipients of the medal are just like you and I. Who are the Medal of Honor recipients? They are you and I," he told the packed ballroom audience at the Holiday Inn & Suites.
That explanation seemed particularly appropriate on the celebration of the nation's first Commander in Chief's 275th birthday. Not only did it apply to George Washington — a young surveyor, called to destiny — but also to those that suffered and bled from the white snows at Valley Forge to the redoubts at Yorktown. Although there was no "Medal of Honor" until 1863 and the Civil War, as Foley noted in his remarks, there was always honor and sacrifice.
Foley showed a living history film created by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation depicting other recipients telling of their actions under fire that earned them this most prestigious of awards. Yet, story after story came back to one central theme: "I wear this award not for myself but for all who have served and died in the defense of this nation."
One hundred and seventeen of their stories are chronicled in the book "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond The Call Of Duty." Foley presented a copy of that treatise to the association upon conclusion of his address.
The day Gen. Foley received his medal, so did another member of his unit, Sergeant John Baker, who had also distinguished himself in the same engagement against the North Vietnam military. Foley remained in the U.S. Army until 2000. He ended his 37-year career as Commander of the Fifth Army.
THE OTHER HIGHLIGHT of the annual breakfast is always the presentation of the Reverend Ben Lynt Distinguished Service Award presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the City. This year that honor went to Jean Taylor Federico, former director, Office of Historic Alexandria.
For 22 years, Federico served as the primary custodian of Alexandria history and preservation. Prior to coming to Alexandria in 1983, she served as director and curator of the Daughters of The American Revolution Museum in the District of Columbia and as the registrar at the University of Maryland Art Gallery.
As a native Californian from Sacramento, Federico received her bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and her master's from the University of Michigan. Upon her retirement on December 30, 2005, Federico listed three accomplishments of which she was particularly proud during her career in Alexandria:
oAchieving accreditation for the City's three museums
oBuilding the Lyceum's historic collection
oWorking with the African American community to bring forth their historical contributions to Alexandria
Federico announced that she was going to study the American Revolution at Oxford University in London. "I know our side. I'd like to learn about their perspective," she said.
Also receiving special recognition was Jo Anne Mitchell, executive director, Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, for the past 10 years who recently announced her retirement effective this April. She was presented with a certificate honoring her years of service to the City by Mary Anne Russell, general manager, Old Town Embassy Suites and Joseph S. Shumard, vice chair, G.W. Birthday Celebration Committee.
Special guests at this year's event were Captain Michael Bernacchi, USN, commanding officer, USS Alexandria, the nuclear-powered Los Angeles Class attack submarine bearing the City's name, and six members of his crew. Bernacchi thanked the City for its support and reported on their latest mission to the Middle East and up-coming mission to the North Pole where they will plant the City flag.
A NEW PROGRAM honoring "Alexandria Living Legends" was announced by Jerry Vernon, publisher, and Mary Anne Weber, editor, of the Alexandria Gazette Packet. "This is a project we have been working on for some time. Once a month we will publish a Living Legend in Alexandria — someone who has made a significant contribution to the City and its citizens," Vernon explained.
Thus far 45 individuals have been nominated for 2007. The nomination for this year are now closed, Vernon stated.
A panel of judges will select 12 from that group who will receive special recognition in the Gazette Packet throughout 2007. Vernon asked the audience to submit nominations for 2008 and to help sponsor the program he described as an "ongoing" endeavor. The deadline for 2008 nomination is September/October, according to Vernon.
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille welcomed attendees to the City's annual Washington Birthday celebration and encouraged them to attend the parade. Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris, who will be leaving in March to become the Fire Chief of the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority, told the crowd, "I am confident this department will continue to be one of the finest in the nation."
The Annual Meeting Breakfast commenced with the presentation of the colors by the Alexandria Fire Department Color Guard and Invocation by Fire Marshal William Coates, chaplain, Alexandria Fire Department. Once again this year Bill Mayhugh served as Master of Ceremonies with association president, Edward J. Snyder, chairing the gathering and presenting the Ben Lynt Award.