Sure, Memorial Day is a holiday from work and school – a time when friends and family gather for fun-filled picnics, barbecues and pool parties.
But the celebration is made possible by something much more serious – America’s many, selfless veterans. And Monday morning, May 25, some 60 people gathered in the Veterans Amphitheater outside Fairfax City Hall to pay them tribute.
“This is a special day,” said Mayor Scott Silverthorne. “We honor all those who’ve fallen and sacrificed their lives for us.” Noting that it’s also the 70th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day – marking the end of WWII there – he said that’s another reason why “today we take pause and thank those who’ve come before and served our country.”
Both VFW Post 8469 and American Legion Post 177 sponsored the event. Besides the mayor and area residents, dignitaries in attendance included the Fairfax City Council, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11), State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), Del. David Bulova (D-37), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and several military veterans.
Petersen told the crowd that he has a poster from April of 1917 to recruit people here to fight in WWI. “Robert E. Lee’s son was on that poster,” he said. “And it’s significant because it shows how this country came back together after the Civil War.
“I grew up among WWII veterans and now I see many younger veterans of other wars,” continued Petersen. “Military service is a great tradition; I think the self-discipline, honor and duty to country you learn in the military are things you carry with you all your life. VFW Post 8469, thank you for keeping the dream alive.”
THE CEREMONY included a reading of the names of local veterans who lost their lives, and Korean War vet Frank Spicer, a former Marine, tolled a bell after each name. Connolly said the tolling “honors those who’ve served from Fairfax City and County and reminds us of the men and women who go into harm’s way to keep us safe.” He also noted that this year is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
“Let us commit ourselves, not only to our returning veterans, but to their families, as well,” added Connolly. “They’re an enormous support to these veterans and stood with them, sometimes from far away.”
Today especially, said VFW Post 8469 Commander Walter Sweeney, “I think about some of my friends who unknowingly purchased a one-way ticket to Afghanistan. I think they’d want us to pause, remember and celebrate their lives and the sacrifices they made.” So, he told the crowd, “Enjoy yourselves today, but never lose sight of the people who died so you could do that.”
Politicians and residents alike took turns reading the names of people who’d died in conflicts from WWI through the present-day war on terrorism. For example, City Councilwoman Ellie Schmidt’s names were from the Korean War and City Councilman Michael DeMarco’s were from the Vietnam War.
Former City Councilman Dan Drummond’s names included Medal of Honor recipient James W. Robinson Jr. And City Manager Bob Sisson read the name of Army National Guard Lt. Col. Canfield “Bud” Boone who lived in Little Rocky Run and died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
Then when they were all done, 92-year-old Army veteran Bill Sheads rose from his seat and addressed the audience. What he’d heard made such an impression on him, he said, that he felt compelled to speak.
“I’m the last of the charter members of this VFW post,” he said. “And as I heard the names of the WWII veterans read, I realized that I was in high school with many of them, and I just thank God I made it through alive. I was in the cavalry, and our unit was the first to meet the Russians.”
COMMENTING ON TWO, particular people, Sheads said, “I heard the name of Marsh Williams, my wife’s uncle. He was killed on Omaha Beach in Normandy. And Bruce McClure lived right down Main Street. He made it through the invasion of Normandy – I don’t know how; it was hell that day – but was killed at Akin, Germany.”
Sheads received a standing ovation and then Sweeney returned to the podium before American Legion Post 177 Commander Michael Kimlick gave the closing prayer. Summing up, Sweeney said, “Fairfax citizens have perished for this nation during times of war. This ceremony was a reminder that these were not just names on a page, but people, and members of this community.”