Men and women who have served their country were honored Monday morning at the 15th Annual Veterans Day commemoration at Dodona Manor in downtown Leesburg.
The morning's festivities took place under a large tent set up behind the manor, which was the final residence of Nobel Peace Prize-winning U.S. Army Gen. George C. Marshall. Loudoun County, the Town of Leesburg and the George C. Marshall International Center hosted the event, which was open to the public.
After an opening drum cadence performed by Briar Woods High School's Falcon Regiment marching band, Detachment 1205 of the Marine Corps League of Loudoun County presented the colors for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Rev. Walter Earl Mullins of Leesburg's St. James' Episcopal Church then led guests in the invocation.
"Bless [our veterans] abundantly for the hardships they faced and the sacrifices they made, for their many different contributions to America's victories over tyranny and oppression," Mullins prayed.
Marshall Center President Thomas Greenspon acknowledged several distinguished guests, including Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.-10th), Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th) and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D).
Burk then recognized representatives of several local veteran organizations: Loudoun County Veterans of Foreign War Post 1177; American Legion Post 34; Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 227; and the 116th Infantry Regiment of the Virginia National Guard, 3rd Battalion, Company C.
A World War II veteran who was present — William Vitale, who also worked for Marshall — was greeted with a standing ovation.
Stephen Chapin Jr., chairman of the Marshall Center's Board of Directors, introduced the morning's keynote speaker, retired U.S. Navy four-star Admiral T. Joseph Lopez.
"He doesn't know this, but he's actually one of my heroes," Chapin said.
In his many years of service, Lopez served as commander-in-chief of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Allied Forces, Southern Europe. He commanded all U.S. and Allied Bosnia Peace Keeping Forces in 1996 from his headquarters in Sarajevo. He has been awarded numerous medals and honors and is one of just two flag officers in U.S. Navy history to achieve four-star rank after direct commission from enlisted service.
Lopez opened his remarks by saying how proud all veterans make him to be an American.
"In every war and action involving Americans, there were countless acts of heroism. In battles on the land, in the sea and in the air, soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen acted without hesitation to fight for each other and for freedom. We know that so many acts of heroism were never officially recognized, but I believe that today we can say all veterans who've served in our wars are heroes," he said.
He also expressed his gratitude to be able to visit the home of "perhaps our greatest ever soldier-statesman of modern history."
"This home was nearly demolished, and only because of dedicated people here in Leesburg was it restored. It took over 15 years and $10 million to save this beautiful home and the estate," Lopez said.
Before wrapping up, the keynote speaker encouraged listeners to reflect upon the sacrifices made by the armed forces by reciting a famous epitaph: "When you go home, tell them of us and say, 'For your tomorrow, we gave you our today.'"
The audience gave Lopez's address a standing ovation, after which Master of Ceremonies Major Dennis Boykin IV — himself a U.S. Army retiree — invited all present veterans and their families to stand and be recognized during the Falcon Regiment's rendition of the Armed Forces Medley.
Mullins delivered a benediction and closing prayer, followed by the retiring of the colors, a closing performance from the band and concluding remarks from Greenspon.
"We thank you for your service and commend you for the leadership that you will continue to provide to this great country," Greenspon said to the vets present.
Guests were invited to tour the first floor of Dodona Manor after the ceremony.