By Dave Crance and Kylee Toland
On Veterans’ Day this Friday, November 11th, the City of Falls Church will celebrate Veterans Day with various memorial events and ceremonies, including the honoring of four young high school graduates from Meridian High School (formerly George Mason High School) slain performing active military duty during the Vietnam War.
The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day…. At that moment over a century ago, the Armistice ending World War I, what became known as “the war to end all wars,” was signed on Nov. 11, 1918. The day is still celebrated as Remembrance Day in most of Europe and was originally commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States. On the day in 1921, following legislation to create the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, the first unknown American soldier was laid to rest.
The purpose of the legislature establishing the tomb was to return home the body of an unknown American soldier who in himself would represent no one section, no one creed, or race from the Great War, but a singular soldier who would typify the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of all her heroic dead.
Following the Second World War and the Korean conflict, the date was redesignated Veteran’s Day in 1954, and that through the years has overshadowed its original association with World War I. Since then, Nov. 11 has become a day to pay homage to all who have served in the military, in any capacity at any time. It has become a day to recognize and pay homage to the ongoing dedication and sacrifices of all nations’ veterans.
Our region has a long and storied history of volunteerism in this nation’s service and defense dating back to the founding of the country up to the present, with currently over 80,000 veteran’s residing in Fairfax County. In the City of Falls Church, numerous veterans organizations come together every year to recognize this region’s commitment and dedication to the defense of the nation.
So, at 11:00 a.m. this Friday, the Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department will conduct an annual ceremony honoring the communities Veterans at the City’s Veterans Memorial located in front of the Community Center at 223 Little Falls St.
The ceremony will include the unveiling of a revised bronze plaque honoring the four fallen alumni of Meridian High School (formerly George Mason High School). The program will be run by the Greater Falls Church Veterans Council and feature Lieutenant Colonel William A Schmittel, Esq., US. Army (Ret).
After that, the American Legion Post 130 (400 N. Oak Street) will host its annual Veterans Day event shortly after the City’s ceremony ends.
Then, at 1:30 p.m. Meridian High School will host an event honoring the four fallen alumni, Mustang graduates of George Mason High School, as well as presenting four individual plaques with information and photos of the individuals.
Steve Callanen, a 1959 George Mason High School alum and creator of the four individual plaques being placed at Meridian, said the idea of placing the plaques at the high school was inspired by a visit from fellow 1959 alumnus Kevin Talbot. Callanen said Talbot traveled from his home in Boise, Idaho to visit the wall and find the names of several men with whom he had served in Vietnam.
After Talbot located the names of his friends, Callanen said he and Talbot searched for and found the name of a fellow George Mason High School student Neal E. Monette, a 1958 alumnus and former football teammate of Talbot’s.
“While gazing at Neal’s name, we wondered how many of Neal’s classmates were aware that he had died in Vietnam or anything about the circumstances of his death,” Callanen said. “To ensure outstanding student Neal Monette would forever be remembered by George Mason High School students, the idea of creating a memorial plaque in his honor for permanent display at GMHS was born.”
Although the names of more than 58,000 men and women who were killed or missing in action in Vietnam had been engraved in the Wall, Callanen said it “seemed likely” that Monette “may not have been the only GM student to have lost his life in Vietnam” and that each former student who died in military service was “deserving of a memorial plaque at the high school.”
Inquiries through the GMHS Alumni Association network identified that 1955 alumnus David Gerald and 1961 alumnus David Rockwell Crocker Jr., had also died in military service. Callanen stated that work then “slowly and steadily” began on the task of gathering information on each of those GM alums from family members and friends. In August of this year, another George Mason High School alumnus Charles Richard McNulty (‘65), was discovered to have been killed in Vietnam.
Callanen stated it was not anticipated that the names of Smith, Crocker Jr. and McNulty would be missing from the bronze plaque currently posted at the entrance to the Falls Church Community Center which honors Falls Church residents killed in Vietnam and other wars. Callanen said this could be due to them or their parents not being residents of the City of Falls Church at the time they were inducted into the service or died.
To honor those four men “as expeditiously as possible,” the Falls Church Historical Commission was petitioned this Sept. 6, with the aid of Falls Church City Council Member Marybeth Connelly, to authorize creation of the bronze plaque. Callanen said one accomplishment he hopes will happen with the placing of the plaque will be “to ensure that these four outstanding GMHS graduates will forever be remembered by students in the future.”
The alumni will be presenting it to the school to honor and commemorate these four young men. Family members and friends will be present to speak about them. While not open to the general public, alumni, families, and guests will be welcomed at the Falls Church VFW immediately after.
As for how the plaques will impact Meridian as a whole, Callanen said it is hoped that remembering “these four outstanding individuals” will serve to “inspire current and future Meridian High School students to embrace their qualities.” He went on to say that the memorial plaques “demonstrate that during the Vietnam War, when many of their peers were avoiding military service, these men elected to support the United States government.”
“Even if they didn’t agree with America’s role in Southeast Asia, they felt it was their duty to support their country and they gave their lives to that end,” Callanen said.
At 2:30 p.m. the doors will open to the entire community for the Falls Church VFW’s Annual Veterans Day Open House at 7118 Shreve Road. There will be food and beverages with a ceremony beginning at 3 p.m. recognizing local business’ and city support of veterans followed by the announcement of the post’s annual student awards. In addition to the usual cookout food the Vietnamese War Veterans and community will be providing numerous Vietnamese dishes to sample.