Veterans Day holds a solemn place in the hearts of those who have served in the military, said Bob Molepske, commander of American Legion Post 270 in McLean.
“Today conjures memories – sweet, joyously funny, intense, terrifying, often heartbreaking – of our brothers and sisters who have willingly chosen a life of devotion to this remarkable country and their people, ” he said during the post’s Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 12 at McLean High School. “It speaks of an eternal bond of service every veteran of every age and every walk of life shares with every other.”
The national holiday, formerly known as Armistice Day, took on extra significance this year because Nov. 11 marked the centennial of the armistice that ended World War 1.
Despite temperatures in the 40s that necessitated at least a sport coat if not a winter jacket, scores of students emerged from the school at 11 a.m. to witness the ceremony.
After the Pledge of Allegiance, an organ rendition of “Amazing Grace,” the playing of “Taps” and singing of “God Bless America,” Fairfax County police 2nd Lt. Chris Cotone of McLean District Station and Mike Paris of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department placed a ceremonial wreath inside the memorial area.
Cotone, who served for eight years in the Army National Guard during peacetime, said he especially appreciated the sacrifices of war veterans.
McLean High seniors Caroline Raymond and Justin Ngo, who are history honor students, gave their thoughts about veterans’ service and sacrifices.
Noting some members of her family serve in the Army, Navy and Air Force, Raymond said service members and their families feel the effects of deployments.
“Although we may never experience what those in the military go through, we can certainly honor them and their great commitment to this country, giving us the ability to live our lives in freedom,” she said.
Ngo, the son of Vietnamese immigrants who came to the United States after that war, expressed appreciation for veterans.
“If it were not for their service in the war, I would not be standing here today,” he said.
Regardless of their backgrounds, military personnel share a common will to serve, Ngo said.
“What makes America so great is that its soldiers serve not only our country, but the people in countries across the world,” he said. “Those who serve are willing to lay down their own freedom in order to defend the freedom of others.”
Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th), who grew up in a military family and serves on the Board of Veterans Services in Virginia, told the crowd she had been holding roundtable discussions on issues concerning female veterans.
Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd) urged those in attendance to value veterans.
Simon, who served with the military’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, said Army service helped him become a better entrepreneur and public servant.
“In my first command, I learned what it meant to be a leader and how to run a team,” he said. “It wasn’t just about telling people what to do. It was building them up.”
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) called Post 270’s memorial site at McLean High one of his favorite places for reflection and said it symbolically allows different generations to speak to one another.
“Many of these youngsters will feel the call [of military service],” he said. “All of them will feel the benefit of those who serve in our armed forces and protect us around the world.”
Virginia has one of the largest populations of veterans in the country and its residents on Nov. 6 voted 85 percent in favor of a constitutional amendment providing tax exemptions to surviving spouses of veterans who had been 100-percent disabled, Sullivan said.
“The courage and patriotism of our veterans is inspiring,” he said. “The sacrifice is not only of the veteran him- or herself, but of their family and other loved ones.”
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) noted how Veterans Day usually came about a week after the November elections.
“I think that’s an awesome reminder of what the veterans have done for us as a nation,” Foust said. “Every single liberty we enjoy as an American, including the awesome power to go to the polls and select our leaders, we owe to the veterans who served our country.”
Post 270 Cmdr. Molepske singled out veterans in the crowd, including 94-year-old World War II veteran Marvin Quinn, who served in the U.S. Navy, and 84-year-old U.S. Army combat engineer Loren Bush, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
McLean resident Regina Benson, 97, was an Army nurse in Okinawa, Japan and Hawaii during World War II.
Benson said the incident she most remembers was when the hospital ship USS Repose was besieged by a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean. The captain told those aboard to risk going down with the ship rather than jumping overboard.
“All the guys were praying. No longer were they gambling,” she said. “Everyone was praying and in not too long, we went into the eye of the storm and everything was calm on the other side. Then everybody was back shooting dice.”