It means more than a parade to this community
Tomorrow morning, Saturday, Nov. 11, Fenwick Street and the square in Leonardtown will host one of the biggest crowds the town will see all year. Those people will be there for the annual Veterans Day parade, which starts at 10 a.m.
About 1 in every 250 Americans — 0.4 percent — are currently serving in the military, according to RallyPoint. com, and about 7.3 percent of all living Americans have ever served, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
But the concentration is thicker in St. Mary’s. The U.S. Census reports nearly 12,000 veterans call the mother county home. That’s almost 11 percent of the population here.
Those figures just affirm what this community already knows. As host to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, St. Mary’s is keenly aware of the sacrifices and commitment that military service demands, and many of its sons and daughters elect to join the Navy and Marines, as well as the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard. Indeed, St. Mary’s would be nothing like it is today if not for the important work accomplished every day by the more than 22,000 employees at the base, as well as by all of the defense contractors who support it.
So the celebration of Veterans Day is no perfunctory exercise here. It’s much more than pomp and pageantry. It’s appreciation for the military straw that stirs the economic drink here, and respect for all that it took — and takes — to maintain those high standards as the acknowledged hub of naval aviation. The annual parade in Leonardtown, and the ceremonies that follow on the town square and later in Helen, are sincere and heartwarming tributes to those who have served.
The parade is in many ways the legacy of the late Clancy Lyall, a World War II paratrooper who fought in Normandy. He was a technical adviser to Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks when they produced “Band of Brothers” for HBO, which came on the heels of the blockbuster film “Saving Private Ryan.” He knew about the D-Day invasion, because he lived it.
Beginning in 1993, Lyall organized the Leonardtown parade, encouraging military units and officials from elsewhere to come and participate. Lyall worked tirelessly to instill in younger generations an appreciation for the service and sacrifice of veterans before his death in 2013 at age 86.
Since 2001, the observance of Veterans Day has come into even sharper focus. It is no longer just a tribute to those who served in peacetime or in wars past. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 (in which nine Southern Marylanders were killed), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed, have made clear once again the risks and costs of answering the call to service. People in St. Mary’s genuinely and deeply understand this.
Later tomorrow, after the parade in town, the Veterans of Helen will sponsor that community’s 32nd annual observance beginning at 2 p.m. at its monument site on Route 5 just north of the highway’s intersection with Route 238. The event in Helen customarily includes brief remarks, a roll call of the community’s deceased veterans and a laying of wreaths at the monument. This yearly event owes a debt of gratitude to its principal founder, Jim Weber, a retired Marine captain, now 87 and living in Bushwood.
Attend either — or both — events, but at the very least take a few moments tomorrow to honor local veterans and reflect on their many sacrifices to allow us to live our lives as Americans. Those who serve in our armed forces often spend months away from loved ones, and may be sent into war where they risk their lives and endure harsh conditions.
If you feel moved to do so, put a flag out so others know how you feel about your nation and those who served. If you see a veteran in the grocery store or elsewhere, thank them for their service. It may mean more to them than you could ever realize.