A standing-room-only crowd gathered beneath a tent on the grounds of Dodona Manor in Leesburg on Monday morning to pay tribute to military veterans.
It was the 15th year the George C. Marshall International Center hosted the county’s Veterans Day commemoration.
RetiredAdmiral T. Joseph Lopez was the keynote speaker for this year’s program. Lopez served in the U.S. Navy for 39 years, retiring in 1999. He is one of just two flag officers in the history of the U.S. Navy who achieved four-star rank after direct commission from enlisted service. His last major assignments were serving simultaneously as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe/Commander of U.S. and Allied Bosnia Peace Keeping Forces in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Lopez paid tribute to Marshalls as “perhaps our greatest soldier statesman of modern history,” and praised the decades-long effort to save his Leesburg home from demolition and restore it will the support or private donations.
“We are so grateful to the citizens of Leesburg for preservation of this national treasure,” Lopez said. “Our goal is and always will be real peace—the triumph of freedom, not just the absence of war. No one embodied that philosophy more and led our nation toward lasting peace better than Gen. George C. Marshall.”
Lopez focused his remarks on the lessons he learned visiting more than 60 countries during his Navy service and other in recent years.
“The more I learned about the world and the many wonderful countries in it, the more extraordinary I find my own country,” he said. “We are not envied so much for our wealth but for our freedom. Our unique freedom and individual rights are what sets Americans apart.”
Among those rights, he said, was the right to be successful. He highlighted the importance of the community helping veterans when needed. “They have to right to succeed,” he said, adding that Marshall knew that those who provided military service also would
excel in community leadership. “I’ve found veterans in all walks of life to be our greatest assets,” Lopez said.
On the world stage, Lopez said the United States should stand as an inspiration to others .
“If you only remember one thing today, remember this: As Americans, our greatest asset is our tradition of liberty. It is the idea of freedom that sets America apart. Freedom is the foundation of our democratic form of government. Freedom has allowed us to prosper. We are a prosperous country, but it is our liberty, not our prosperity, that counts,” he said. “From outside our borders, freedom will always be opposed by those who believe that our faith in the dignity of the individual threatens their oppressive rule. These threats from forces intent on imposing their way of life, or simply seeking gain through terrorism or aggression must be deterred. Military preparedness and, if necessary, the willingness to fight and win will be required if the United States and its friends are to protect of freedom and that of others.”
Reflecting on the sacrifices of service members, he evoked the epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd British Division on the grounds of the Battle of Kohima in Nagaland in northeast India: “When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.”
“In this generation, we need to be successful in our efforts to preserve the freedom for which the veterans of war fought,” Lopez said. “They gave us precious liberty and we can never forget.”