‘We Remember Those Who Sacrificed Their Tomorrows’

‘We Remember Those Who Sacrificed Their Tomorrows’

Fairfax City pays tribute to the fallen on Memorial Day.

Veterans saluting during the national anthem.

Veterans saluting during the national anthem. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

VFW Post 8469 Chaplain Marcus Kuiper gave the opening prayer at Fairfax City’s annual Memorial Day ceremony, last Monday, May 27. Held at American Legion Post 177, it was jointly hosted by both posts and attended by more than 100 people.

“We pray for those who gave their last, full measure of devotion – those who courageously laid down their lives for the cause of freedom,” said Kuiper. “Hear our prayers for those who put the welfare of others above their own and made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Attendees included Del. David Bulova (D-11th), Sen. Saddam Salim (D-37th), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, Fairfax City Mayor Catherine Read and City Councilmembers Billy Bates, Kate Doyle Feingold, Jeff Greenfield and Tom Ross. Mac McCarl, commander of VFW Post 8469, was the emcee. 

“Memorial Day honors and mourns U.S. military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces,” said McCarl. “Shortly, we’ll read the names of all the Fairfax County fallen, as a sign of respect. Each of those names was a real person, with the same hopes and dreams that you all have. But they couldn’t see them through because of the sacrifice they made for this nation. Think of that as we read those names.”

He also mentioned the red paper poppies each attendee received and how they became famous during WWII in the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” referencing the red poppies growing over the soldiers’ graves. “It resulted in the poppy becoming a widespread symbol of remembrance,” said McCarl. “And I ask you on Memorial Day to wear them proudly as a sign of respect and talk about their meaning with others.”

Bulova said words can’t express his deep gratitude to those who died in defense of America’s freedom, but he was humbled and grateful to speak at the ceremony. “This year our nation is celebrating an important milestone in our history,” he said. “On July 18, 1774, almost 250 years ago, 25 brave Fairfax County residents signed the Fairfax Resolves. They included George Washington, George Mason and 23 others whose names – like Gilpin, Gunnel and West – we see on streets today.

“The document represented a watershed moment for our nation. Not only did it reject the idea of the British Crown’s superiority, but it was one of the very first documents – right here in Fairfax – to lay out our basic, Constitutional rights and also to condemn the institution of slavery.”

Bulova noted that, in 2026, America will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which declares, “All men are created equal … with [rights to] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet while it was brave at that time for people to sign that document, he said, “They’re words on paper. What makes them powerful is that people were willing to fight and die for them. These words became the soul of the nation, inspiring generation after generation.”

“Today we thank everyone who fought to make these words real,” continued Bulova. “And we especially remember those who sacrificed their tomorrows and the possibilities that came with [them].” He said their weddings never took place, their memories weren’t made, and their grandchildren never existed. All were replaced by empty seats at dinner tables.

“They did that so we could live in peace and live out our nation’s promise and possibilities,” said Bulova. “While we can never repay them, we can honor them. May God bless and watch over them.”

Salim called Memorial Day a time to pay tribute to those who’ve “laid down their lives to protect our freedoms and ensure our safety. Let us never forget those brave soldiers who gave everything for our nation. Let their memories live on in our hearts and actions, and may we honor their sacrifice not just today, but every single day.”

Mayor Read said the pain of America’s POWs (Prisoners of War) and MIAs and their families, throughout history, must also be recognized. “MIA – Missing in Action, presumed dead – there are so many of our military personnel lying in jungles and forests, lost at sea or on remote islands in the Pacific,” she said. “And their families don’t have the closure of knowing where they are, or what their last moments were like.”

She also acknowledged the role of women who’ve supported the military since the Revolutionary War but haven’t been honored for their service like men have. “Now women are losing their lives in airplanes and on battlefields, like their male counterparts, who’ve served and been recognized all along,” said Read. 

“But there were women who served in Vietnam and were probably some of the last people our soldiers and sailors ever saw in their last moments on earth. So I appreciate the fact that we’re starting now to call out their names – sadly, among those who’ve lost their lives. And it’s an important ritual for us to do every year in the City of Fairfax.”

Councilmember Bates said Memorial Day makes him think of his great grandfather who was a munitions specialist defusing bombs during WWII. Although he lived until his early 80s, a bomb explosion during his wartime service left him with serious health issues for the rest of his life and eventually led to his demise. After the blast, he was temporarily blinded. His vision later returned, but the damage to his body was permanent. 

“It was a mustard-gas bomb; so in addition to the pressure from the explosion as he was working on it, he inhaled a significant amount of mustard gas,” explained Bates. “It caused a fluid buildup in his lungs and around his heart, and he spoke with a whisper due to a paralyzed larynx.” So, Bates told the crowd, “My heart goes out to everyone who’s lost someone, and I am eternally grateful for all of your sacrifices.”

Councilmember Jeff Greenfield referenced a speech future president James Garfield gave on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery: “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke. But they summed up by one supreme act the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
“Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags,” said Greenfield. “And today, I want us to remember a few folks who were longtime City residents who made a difference, not only for our country, but for this community: Bill Sheads, Lou Frank, John Price, Eddie Camper and former City Mayor John Mason.” Then, to the veterans in the audience, Greenfield said, “God bless you and God bless this great nation.”

Calling it “a somber day that touches all of us,” Sheriff Kincaid said, “Our freedom is not free. For those who’ve served, this day holds the most significance, while our country pays tribute to the lives lost in defense of our nation. Today and every day, we should honor and remember our fallen heroes and share stories of how they lived lives of duty, loyalty and courage.

“Whether you visit a cemetery or memorial, wear a red poppy on your lapel or simply reflect during a quiet moment, remember all our men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. President Harry Truman said, ‘Our debt to [them] can never be repaid. They earned our undying gratitude; let’s carry forward this legacy.”

American Legion Post 177 Commander Eric Parkhurst said it warmed his heart to see how many people attended the ceremony and took a pause from the day’s festivities to stop and remember the fallen. “Oftentimes, it seems like our new generation has forgotten that part,” he said. However, he added, his faith was restored when he recently spoke at a Boy Scout Court of Honor and was pleased to discover that these Scouts knew the meaning of Memorial Day.

“When we’re gone, the legacy of those we lost in battle must continue,” said Parkhurst. “We sometimes take for granted all we have – nice cars and homes. A lot of our veterans don’t have homes. Let us never take for granted our soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave their lives for us to enjoy those freedoms we have today.”

Then, following the reading of the names, Chaplain Kuiper gave the closing prayer, saying, “Almighty God, today we honor our worthy men and women who gave their best when they were called to serve. Please bless our veterans and their families, fill their homes with Your strength and love, and help us to remember and respect their sacrifice.”