Crowd braves chill, salutes vets

2017 Leonardtown Veterans Day Parade
Leonardtown, MD –
 Every Veterans Day, Leonardtown demonstrates that America is the Land of the Free. Considering the unseasonably bone-chilling temperatures of Saturday, Nov. 11, those who came to watch the Free State’s largest Veterans Day parade gave evidence that America truly is the Home of the Brave. The nearly two hour march through the seat of the Mother County attracted units of every variety—uniformed soldiers and students, Scouts, equestrians, political figures, classic cars, motorcycles, tractors, fire and rescue vehicles, floats, area schools and plenty of veterans from every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It was great even though it was a little colder than usual,” said Leonardtown Mayor Daniel W. Burris. The 2017 event was the town’s 42nd. Twice the Veterans Day National Committee has awarded the event a National Veterans Day Regional Site recognition.

“Thank them [military veterans] for giving us our freedom,” Leonardtown Elementary School (LES) fifth-grader Cooper Ferris told the crowd gathered in the center of town, at Wars Memorial Garden, following the parade.

“It’s up to us to make them [veterans] feel special,” declared another LES fifth-grader, Sarah Nelson. Of her grandfather, a Navy veteran, Nelson added, “I want to grow up to be just like him.”

“If we didn’t have veterans, we wouldn’t be free,” said Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School fifth-grader Chase Dawson. His classmate, Josh Hedderich, expressed admiration for his grandfather, a Vietnam War veteran. “We do this [Veterans Day] to be thankful. Every single one is a hero to me.”

Several elected officials—including Congressman Steny Hoyer and members of the St. Mary’s County Delegation to Annapolis made brief remarks during the post parade ceremony. “For those who have come home from active service, whether in war or in peace, return knowing that service never ends,” Hoyer stated. “And so they continue to serve – as teachers, as nurses, as civic volunteers, as first responders, as involved parents and neighbors—to give back, to make sure the promise of the American dream can be within reach of everyone. And we continue to be inspired by their unending commitment to country and community.” 

Delegate Deb Rey, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, not only thanked the vets assembled but added, “you’re welcome,” on their behalf to the crowd.

Former state delegate, Marine veteran who served during the Vietnam War Ernie Bell spoke about the history behind Leonardtown’s World War I memorial. The two-sided monument has four bronze plaques with the names of 27 St. Mary's County residents who lost their lives in the war. The monument was dedicated Nov. 11, 1921. Bell noted that over 1,000 people attended the 1921 dedication ceremony. Veterans Day has its origins in the aftermath of World War I, as Nov. 11 was originally observed as Armistice Day.

“The kind of support we have from the community is incredible,” declared Naval Air Station, Patuxent River Commanding Officer Captain Jason Hammond. “In St. Mary’s County there are thousands of veterans.”

Over 400 veterans are residents of Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. Maryland Veterans Home Commission Vice Chairman and Secretary Gary D. Knight noted Charlotte Hall was currently the only such facility in Maryland but a second home for vets might be built in Baltimore County in the near future. Knight called Charlotte Hall Veterans Home “a first-class facility.”

On Veterans Day 2017, Burris may have been the busiest mayor in America. In addition to emceeing the post parade ceremony, Leonardtown’s mayor—with help from retired Navy Captain Barbara Ives and St. Mary’s County Board of Education Member Mary Washington—announced the parade units that made the trek from St. Mary’s Ryken High School and moved about the streets of Leonardtown. During a surprisingly lengthy lull at the start of the parade, the mayor didn’t miss a beat as he moved about the sidewalks seeking veterans for acknowledgement. Burris also broached a currently controversial topic during his post parade remarks without mentioning or criticizing the perpetrators of the controversy. He had researched the origins of playing and singing the Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events. That tradition—which has been a touchy subject due to some athletes opting to “take a knee” rather than stand at attention during its playing as a form of social protest—also originated during World War I. Major League Baseball players participating in the 1918 World Series had the National Anthem performed during the seventh inning stretch of each series game as a way to honor the troops still in Europe. Burris noted the ritual caught on and became a tradition at many other sporting events.

Music for the post-parade ceremony was provided by the Leonardtown High School Marching Band with taps being played by their bugler, Cheyenne Hegedus; the Star-Spangled Banner was sung by Leonardtown Commissioner Hayden Hammett and America the Beautiful was performed by Bethany Yeh.

Contact Marty Madden at

Vets Day Parade photos Part 1

Vets Day Parade photos Part 2

Vets Day Parade photos Part 3

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