It could not have been more apropos, to the degree any such announcement ever can be, that word of the passing of Falls Church icon Walter Mess was conveyed to the public during the Memorial Day commemorative service at the Veterans Memorial in front of the Community Center Monday morning, associated with Falls Church’s annual Memorial Day festival and parade. Mess had been the grand marshal of the F.C. Memorial Day Parade himself in 1998.
Walter Mess was a bigger-than-life figure even as he approached the age 100, and it was a honor to witness his noble stature and unrelenting commitment to honesty and the public interest over the entire last quarter of his life, the years of the publication of the News-Press. A man who stood tall with elegant body language and blazing white hair, he had a firm handshake and ready laugh to accompany the important issues he always sought to convey.
We were all anticipating the big celebration as his 100th birthday approached, even if there was a slight disagreement over exactly how old he really was. Indeed, his generation was known for such discrepancies, as was the case with our editor’s own father, when bending the rules to enlist was achieved with some clumsy alterations of official records.
In a great tribute to Walter Mess’ legacy, held last year on March 25, 2012 to a standing room only crowd at the American Legion Hall, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran aptly identified Mess as “the very embodiment of what’s been called America’s Greatest Generation.” At that event, a plaza on the W&OD Trail in front of the American Legion Hall on N. Oak was dedicated in Walter Mess’ name.
On that occasion, Mr. Mess spoke very eloquently and forcefully about how things in this region have come to be, and how to secure them in the future. We were deeply moved when Mr. Mess singled out our editor for the longevity of the News-Press as an example. In the context of praising those with extensive track records “giving time and talent to make Falls Church work,” naming a long list, he then said about our editor, “Some may not always agree with his editorial views, but he does it. He makes it work.”
As a News-Press editorial subsequently noted, the recognition “came from just the kind of source that makes it really matter.”
Mess was a decorated World War II hero who marshaled the resources and leadership to build the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority from nothing half a century ago to its 11,000 acres, 19 parks and hundreds of trails now serving up to 10 million people a year.
Earlier, he had been a hero serving the U.S. Organization of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, operating behind enemy lines in Thialand and Burma and rescuing over 200 downed American aviators, earning a Purple Heart and more recently the OSS Distinguished Service Award.
This man was bigger than life.