By Alex Russell
The 40th Annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival, which will be set up on the grounds near City Hall and the Community Center (300 Park Ave, Falls Church), will feature a Ceremony at Veterans Plaza hosted by the Falls Church Veterans Council, beginning at 11 a.m. The keynote speaker this year is Captain Shaw H. Cohe, S.C., U.S. Navy (RET).
When asked what Memorial Day meant to him on a personal level, he acknowledged how it is “a very ‘American’ holiday.”
“On the one hand, it is a very solemn day where we memorialize those who perished while serving in the Armed Forces…The day usually starts with ceremonies to honor the fallen,” with the ceremonial “presidential wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery,” as well as other observances on a smaller scale, such as the ones organized by “the Veterans Council and our city government sponsor here in Falls Church.”
“The rest of the day, the community celebrates with parades, fun runs, barbecues and other activities to bring our families and communities together.”
It is this mixture of honoring and remembering those no longer with us and of celebrating and enjoying “the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness that our fallen military members sacrificed their lives to preserve” that makes for a holiday that is unique to American life and culture.
“At 3 p.m., since the presidential proclamation in the mid-1990s, we…cease our festivities to again have a moment of silence to honor those Armed Service members who made the ultimate sacrifice to make the good life possible.”
Captain Cohe’s family has been a long-time member of the Falls Church community since 1987. Both his sons attended Falls Church City public schools and are active duty officers serving in the U.S. Army.
“I am a longtime resident of Falls Church and a huge fan of the Memorial Day Festivities in the Little City. Harry Shovlin, Bob Smith and the rest of the Veterans Council, along with local supporting veterans organizations, do a great job with the Memorial Ceremony.”
There are a number of veterans organizations in the area, including the Greater Falls Church Veterans Council, VFW Post 9274, and American Legion Post 130, who work to support fellow veterans in their community and who come out to experience and participate in the City’s Memorial Day events.
On events specific to the City, Cohe shared his fondness for the Don Beyer Volvo Fun Run, saying that it is “another great and unique part of the celebration.” On how he became this year’s keynote speaker, Cohe explained that he was asked to fulfill the role by Harry Shovlin.
“Harry retired as a long-time teacher and coach in the FCPS system and has been a great leader in the Falls Church veteran community and many other worthy civic endeavors over many years.” He has presided over the veterans ceremony numerous times as its master of ceremonies during past Memorial Day celebrations.
Cohe admits he was “surprised to receive the invitation. My initial response to Harry was that I am not a war hero, senior public official, running for office or otherwise looking to expand my public presence.” In other words, Cohe found himself asking Shovlin, “‘are you sure about this?’”
But Shovlin assuaged his doubts, clarifying that “they were looking for someone who lived in the city for many years and also had a long military career.”
“For those who know Harry,” Cohe quipped, “when he asks you to volunteer, resistance is pointless! All kidding aside, I am both honored and humbled to be the keynote speaker for this event and will do my best to rise to the occasion.”
As for the speech itself, he plans to “briefly talk about the history and meaning of Memorial Day, and a few personal experiences and observations.”
“One point I hope to make is that Memorial Day is a federal holiday for mourning the military personnel who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and not just those who lost their lives in actual combat. The military is an inherently dangerous profession. Particularly today, when all who serve are volunteers, their sacrifice should also be properly memorialized.”
Captain Cohe, S.C., U.S. Navy (RET), served for over 30 years. During his naval service, he received numerous individual decorations, unit awards, and campaign and service medals. He has been a volunteer assistant wrestling coach at Meridian High School (formerly George Mason) since 1997, when his now-adult sons joined the team. Currently, he is a part-time Professor of Contract Management at the Defense Acquisition University at Fort Belvoir.