Little Tommy Runyon sat on his father's shoulders yesterday, raised a pair of gloved hands to his ears and cooed in delight as four F105 jets screamed across a sky of gunmetal gray, just above the rooftops of Leesburg.
Tommy, aged 6, and his father Darrel were part of a boisterous crowd of about 2,000 who lined the streets there and leaned from the windows of colonial-style shops to ogle and cheer the precesion of an all-military parade. cThey and a small army of dignitaries that included ambassodors from several NATO countries gathered to honor the Loudoun County town's favorite citizen: the late general and secretary of state, George Catlett Marshall.
"I wanna be a soldier and have a rifle like that," said young Runyon, dazzled by the Army drill team that tossed rifles with fixed bayonets within inches of each other.His father, describing himself as a once-bitter Vietnam veteran, winced at the thought.
"When he gets older I'm going to tell him what it's really like. But it's hard to avoid getting caught up in the feeling, the patriotism, right her in little old Leesburg," Darrel said before taking his son toward Courthouse Square to catch a glimpse of Virginia Sens. John W. Warner and Harry F. Byrd Jr.
Yesterday's elaborate festivities formed the climax of Marshall Week in Leesburg with the dedication of an 8 1/2-foot bronze statue of Marshall. The memorial, located on a corner of the courthouse lawn with the inscription "Soldier . . . Statesman . . . Citizen . . . Friend," shows Marshall leaning against a fence, clad in a sport coat and tie and a wrinkled shirt.
Marshall served the country as secretary of the departments of state and defense during a career that also saw him head the American Red Cross and act as ambassador to China. One of his best-known achievements was the formation of the Marshall Plan to forge the Economic recovery of war-ravaged Europe, an acomplishment that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
For many who attended the ceremonies yesterday, the statue symbolized the life of an unpretentious man who never forgot the rural Virginia community that loved him.
"He was not only a great statesman, but a good friend and neighbor of the community," said State Sen. Charles Waddell (D-Loudoun). "He was a member of St. James Episcopal Church, a member of the Leesburg Rotary Club. It's heartwarming to see this turnout. It's a fantastic day."
"All Virginians are proud that General Marshall chose Leesburg and Loudoun County as his home," agreed Byrd. "It is appropriate that we should honor this man."
Former secretary of state Dean Rusk, the featured speaker at the dedication, praised Marshall as "our leader, our teacher, our inspiration," calling him a man with "an extraordinary sense of duty."
In full dress regalia, rows of the United States Army Band, the Air Force Platoon, the "Old Guard" Fife and Drum Corps and the British Colour Guard, to name just a few marched before excited onlookers such as 28-year-old Kathy Ledesma of Sterling Park. "To heck with all the doubters and the fretters," Ledesma said. "It feels great to be an American . . . seeing everybody turn out to honor one or our own Virginians."