La Plata delivers a crisp salute to local veterans

Town ceremony, parade thank those who served USA

Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

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Staff photos by SARA POYNOR
Ray Mertz, owner of KOOL productions, escorts two veterans, CW5 Ray Johnson and Sgt. Dan Tucker (back seat), in a 1942 military jeep in Sunday's Veterans Day parade in La Plata.

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The Port Tobacco Players Encore Kids provides patriotic musical entertainment during the "Salute to Veterans" ceremony held in front of the town hall.

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American Legion Post 82 of La Plata led by Kyleigh Mattingly, 10, Tori Mattingly, 6, and Juliet Bowie, 8.

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Thomas Stone High School's U.S. Army Junior ROTC cadets march down La Grange Avenue in La Plata's "Salute to Veterans" parade on Sunday.

When La Plata salutes veterans, the townsfolk do it right.

On Sunday, spectators lined the streets with American flags in hand to watch the town's "Salute to Veterans" parade.

Some arrived as early as noon to claim their spot along the parade path.

Although there were no Budweiser Clydesdales in this year's event — last year's highlight — Amy PeŇa, La Plata special events coordinator, estimated more than 3,000 participants and spectators were in attendance, making for one of the largest crowds in recent years.

The parade started at 1 p.m. at the county government building and was led by Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) and his campaign supporters. Parade participants trekked down LaGrange Avenue passing in front of the town hall and ending at Sacred Heart Church on St. Mary's Avenue.

Participants included local high school Junior ROTC cadets and marching bands, numerous local businesses, fire departments and American Legion posts.

Linda Rothgeb, a 40-year resident of La Plata, attended the event for the first time in many years, she said. Her grandson, Jamie Cable, a freshman at La Plata High School, participated in the parade as part of La Plata's Best Buddies Club.

Like many others, Rothgeb described the event in one word — "wonderful."

Her husband was a little emotional when he saw the World War II veterans, she said.

However, Rothgeb, 63, paid particular attention to all the JROTC units.

"They are the next ones who will be defending our country," she said. "There are a lot of young people in harm's way."

After the parade, visitors were invited to join in a Veterans Day program in front of the La Plata Town Hall.

The guest speaker, Cmdr. Dennis D. Quick, executive officer at Naval Support Activity South Potomac, read a poem, "It Is the Soldier" by Charles Province, a veteran of the U.S. Army.

He received a standing ovation from the audience.

In his speech, Quick thanked veterans for their service "to our grateful country. … Their courage and sacrifice know no boundary," he said. "Veterans were once warriors in a great cause."

There are 23 million veterans today, Quick added.

He closed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, "the living brave patriotic men are better than gold."

After the ceremony, Quick told a reporter "that feeling you get [when you hear someone speak or attend such events], we need to have it all the time, not just once a year. … A simple thank you is all it takes."

George W. Reeder Jr. was one of the WW II veterans present Sunday. Reeder came to La Plata in 1946 as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army and retired in 1967.

"It was a wonderful tribute," Reeder said, adding that "it's nice to know that people still appreciate us."

Reeder pointed out that most of the people there were not alive during WW II. "They had to learn about it from their parents and grandparents," he said.

La Plata Mayor Roy G. Hale is a retired naval officer who served for 24 years.

Although the parade is held in La Plata, it really is a county event, he said. The parade and program started about 13 years ago and was the idea of former Mayor Bill Eckman, Hale said.

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