In Alexandria our history is especially important to us. Thats largely because we have a longer narrative than most places in America. We were a colonial town and a British Colony prior to the formation of the United States. George Washington called Alexandria home. Robert E. Lee lived and worshipped here.
Congressman Gerald Ford lived here before he became president. Virtually every president has spent time here, most recently President Barack Obama, who signed health and higher education legislation at Northern Virginia Community Colleges Alexandria campus.
Part of the saga of our city has been its participation in all of our countrys wars. The tomb of the unknown Revolutionary War soldier stands in the Meeting House Cemetery as a memorial to all who died in that war. The statue of the confederate soldier looking southward down Washington Street is a reminder of the Alexandrians lost in the Civil War. The Torpedo Factory is a living symbol of the munitions that were produced here during World War I. The Rocky Versace Plaza at the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center is a tribute to Alexandrians who fell in the Vietnam War.
Americans, including Alexandrians, continue to die in service to their country, in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and around the world. These wars dont receive the attention in 2010 that they did a few years ago. This is at least partly because as a country weve tired of focusing on conflicts that are nearing nine years in duration. Weve become numb to scenes of soldiers and desert in Iraq and mountain fighters in Afghanistan. Yet these current wars are also a part of our unfolding history.
Though the focus of many of us may be elsewhere, we are occasionally jarred by the reality of the current wars and the continued deaths of soldiers. Sometimes the reminder is as simple as passing a house with a yellow ribbon tied to a tree. Sometimes its as upsetting as waiting on a plane and watching as a flag-covered coffin is loaded onto a nearby jetliner.
Monday is a day to rest, to watch outstanding jazz in Fort Ward Park and to spend time with family and friends. But its also a day to remember. If you have time, stop by the Rocky Versace plaza for the Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. The program will include a wreath-laying and the reading of the names of all 67 Alexandrians who gave their lives fighting in the Vietnam War. Or stroll through the Meeting House cemetery and pay your respects to that long-ago fallen soldier.
Memorial Day is about the living as well as the dead. Its our cultural marker of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. College and high school students are graduating all around the country, their futures bright in front of them. Many will enter the civilian work force. Some will enlist in the military, joining the ranks of those who came before. They will risk their lives daily for us. Memorial Day is our yearly opportunity to remember those who fought and fell as well as to thank those who voluntarily continue to risk all protecting us and our country.