Twenty years ago on Memorial Day, Falls Church dedicated its Veterans Memorial. The celebration marked the end of a nearly decade-long effort to establish a space in the City where veterans could be honored.
Before the memorial was built, all that stood at the site was a flag pole and a stone recognizing that the token was donated by Falls Church’s American Legion Post 130. For the memorial, stone pedestals were installed around that flag pole, each bearing a plaque to represent a uniformed service. It’s a quaint and beautiful space, local veteran Harry Shovlin says, and unique in that all seven uniformed services are represented there – not just the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, but also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service commissioned corps.
The local veterans groups who championed establishing a Veterans Memorial wished also to have a space to host ceremonies honoring veterans. The first of these events was held at the memorial a few months after it was dedicated, on Veterans Day. Ceremonies have been held there every Memorial Day and Veterans Day since and (save for one rare exception), Shovlin has led them all – even the year he served as grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade.
When planning the veterans ceremonies, Shovlin says he has three aims: that those in attendance learn, pray, and remember. Each ceremony features an informative lecture by a keynote speaker. A different local religious figure is selected for each ceremony to lead those assembled in prayer. Volunteers read names on notecards of veterans from Falls Church who lost their lives in battle, so that individual sacrifice is not lost. Shovlin also endeavors to keep the program focused on Falls Church – including in recent years musical performances by the Falls Church Concert Band and by Falls Church resident MSgt John Abbracciamento of the United States Marine Band.
Before the Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1994, Shovlin says no ceremonies were held to honor veterans on Memorial Day, though the City held a Memorial Day Festival for several years prior. The meaning of the holiday, a day to honor those who died in service, can go overlooked amidst the attractions of the summer festival, Shovlin says. Many veterans attend the ceremony, and Shovlin is surprised that more non-veterans don’t attend. He continues to host the Memorial Day ceremony, with the hope that more people will attend and come to understand its purpose.
“There’s so much going on – the race in the morning, the parade in the afternoon – but there’s a reason. The reason for the festivities for the weekend are important to recognize,” Shovlin said. “And the only place that it is recognized is at our ceremony.”