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Great Falls Marks Memorial Day

Annual ceremony pays tribute to veterans past and present.

Great Falls residents line up to meet Tommy Cox of McLean, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Battle of Iwo Jima Monday, May 27 at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial.

Great Falls residents line up to meet Tommy Cox of McLean, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Battle of Iwo Jima Monday, May 27 at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

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Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Norman Smith speaks at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial Monday, May 27.

Retired Lt. Gen. Norman H. Smith was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps in December 1955, more than 10 years after the Battle of Iwo Jima. But 68 years later, he accompanied 14 surviving veterans to the Japanese island, and he was struck by the stories he heard.

“As we stood on Mount Suribachi, some of the vets talked about their recollections of the battle. Donald Graves, 87, was 18 then. He remembered having steak for breakfast on the day he went ashore third wave. Once on the black beach, he lay with his face on the sand, very scared. He told me he was clinging to a ledge on Mount Suribachi with his flamethrower, just a few feet from where the [American] flag was raised,” Smith said. “Bill Montgomery, 89, was not long out of high school. On Iwo Jima he was the only survivor of his small unit. When he saw the flag raised on Suribachi, he thought the battle was over, but instead it raged on for more than a month. He told me he had not wanted to revisit the scene of so much tragedy, but decided to come to remember and honor his fellow Marine brothers.”

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Calvin Follin reads the names of Great Falls residents who have died in the service of their country, or in attacks on their country, while Sara Hilgartner rings a bell for each name at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial Monday, May 27.

Smith was the guest speaker at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial’s Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 27. One Iwo Jima veteran was present at the ceremony. Tommy Cox of McLean was a member of the 5th Marine Division, 28th Regiment, and witnessed the famous raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi.

DOZENS OF RESIDENTS gathered at the memorial to pay tribute to the 25 men and women of Great Falls who died in battle or from attacks on America, as well as the thousands of Americans who had, what Abraham Lincoln called “laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom.”

After the names were read, scouts from Boy Scout Troop 55 raised the flags at the memorial from half-mast.

“According to the Flag Code, flags should fly at half staff until midday, to mourn the sacrifices of the past,” said Bruce Ellis Fein of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial. “The flags should be raised at midday to full staff to celebrate the future that those sacrifices have made possible.”

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Maria Glover sings the National Anthem next to Bruce Ellis Fein of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial Monday, May 27, as part of the community’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.

After the ceremony, Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34) presented the family of Tony Blankley, a Great Falls resident and member of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial who passed away in January 2012.

Blankley was a press secretary for Newt Gingrich while he was Speaker of the House, the editorial page editor for The Washington Times and a regular panelist on The McLaughlin Group. He was also a prosecutor with the California attorney general’s office and even briefly a child actor, appearing in Humphrey Bogart’s last film, “The Harder They Fall.”

“It’s fitting that we honor Tony today, because he and [his wife] Linda were very committed to the military, and were so involved in setting up this memorial, and Linda continues that legacy today,” Comstock said. “Tony was truly a Renaissance man. He led such a rich, interesting and well-led life, and he was well respected by all his friends and colleagues, which many of us here are proud to call ourselves.”

BLANKLEY’S WIFE LINDA DAVIS, her mother and their daughter Anna accepted the resolution awarded by Comstock. Davis is still active with many military causes, and spent last weekend volunteering with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

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Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Norman Smith, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34) and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova prepare to lay a wreath at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial Monday, May 27, as part of the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

“I’m so thankful for this tremendous honor, and I know Tony would be very humbled by it as well,” she said.

Smith said in his concluding remarks that though many of the men and women of the armed forces may wish to forget the tragedies, injuries and losses they have endured in service of country, “Those who have made the greatest sacrifice have no tomorrows,” he said. “They have given them to us, and for those who have given their lives, we must be strong, we will be faithful and we will be free.”