On the “11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour,” a patriotic crowd – many proudly wearing red, white and blue – assembled at the Virginia War Memorial to celebrate the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans. It was a gorgeous fall day at the E. Bruce Heilman Amphitheater – perfect for honoring Virginia’s more than 713,000 veterans and their families.
Bagpipers and drummers from the combined clans of Benedictine and St. Andrew’s Legion kicked off the ceremony with several numbers. Then, Clay Mountcastle, director of the Virginia War Memorial, welcomed everyone, noting that, “Veterans Day is a very special day of celebration here in the Commonwealth and especially here at the Virginia War Memorial. As our Shrines of Memory, historical exhibits and documentary films showcase, Virginians have proudly and unselfishly answered the call to defend and protect our state and our nation for over 250 years. Veterans Day gives all of us the opportunity to remember, honor and thank these men and women for their service and sacrifice.”
Sgt. Samuel Johnson led the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by a fine a cappella rendition of the National Anthem performed by the Benedictine High School Chorus.
Major Gen. Tim Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia, and commander of the Virginia National Guard, explained that the Virginia National Guard is a unique dual force with both state and federal missions to “support the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia” and to “ act as the combat reserve of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.” The National Guard has been called on from 2019 to today at a rate that hasn’t been seen since World War II, he said. He provided a quick snapshot of the National Guard and what has happened over the last 24 months, highlighting the great things that the men and women in uniform are doing around the world.
Williams closed with a challenge to the veterans in the audience: “We have work to do in our communities. It’s up to us to carry the torch. Be an example of what a good citizen is.”
John Maxwell, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, thanked everyone for celebrating this Veterans Day and remarked that he was “grateful that we can gather together to honor Virginia’s veterans and their service to our nation.” He observed that we are “honored to recognize those who wore the cloth of our nation” and added that “the sacrifices of uniformed service members have allowed our nation to grow and flourish during wars, conflicts, and restless periods of peace since we declared our independence.”
He reminded those gathered of President Eisenhower’s historic proclamation for the very first Veterans Day celebration, calling upon “…all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
Kathleen Jabs, Virginia’s acting secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, was the keynote speaker. She noted that the charge to her from Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is straightforward: “Make Virginia the most military- and veteran-friendly state in the country.”
She continued by noting that, “all of us on the Veterans and Defense Affairs team treat every day as Veterans Day. Our mission is to better the lives of Virginia veterans and their families.” She concluded by assuring veterans that “If you fought for us, we will fight for you.”
Mountcastle also introduced a new program called the “Inspire Military Family of the Year” to honor veterans and families who have proudly served. He introduced John and Janet Cogbill and Jack and Patricia Cogbill; who represent two generations of service in the U.S. Army. In addition, the next generation: John III and Jamie Cogbill are also serving.
Mountcastle noted that the Cogbill family has been serving the country since the American Revolution.
The winners of the Virginia War Memorial’s 2021 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest, Joseph Moreno and Maria Turner, read their touching and heartfelt essays.
To end the formal portion of the ceremony, the 380th Army Band played the “Armed Forces Medley” saluting veterans from each branch of the military as they stood to be recognized.
Participants then followed Mountcastle, first lady Pamela Northam, and Denise Alderman of the Blue Star Families, to place a memorial wreath in the Shrine of Memory to honor the nearly 12,000 Virginians who died in service to the nation.
The ceremony was telecast live by WTVR, CBS 6 in Richmond and is available for viewing on its website: https://www.wtvr.com/news/local-news/watch-commonwealths-veterans-day-ceremony-virginia-war-memorial-2021.
Photos by: Karen Davis, Palladin Photography