MEDIA >> “It’s a high interest year,” said Media Mayor Bob McMahon as the borough prepared for its 58th annual Veterans Day Parade set for Friday. More veterans organizers from across Delaware County than ever before assembled around 10 a.m. before the parade launched at 11.
This year, Grand Marshals retired U.S. Army Nurse Capt. Maureen Robinson and her son Mark Robinson led the parade through traditional route of State and Edgmont streets, along State Street, right onto Orange Street and right onto Front Street to the county courthouse where ceremonies were be held.
Veterans organizations were joined by 11 high school marching bands, a host of county, state and federal elected officials, the Sun Valley High School Marine Corps JROTC, and cadets from Valley Forge Military Academy. The Upper Darby Marine Corps Color Guard was in attendance, celebrating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Nov. 10 birthday along with the observance of Veterans Day.
Along with speeches from the grand marshals and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., the ceremony featured the three winners of the annual Mary Ryan Memorial Essay Contest reading their submissions.
Open to public, private and home school students in grades 6-8, this year’s contest drew 110 submissions responding to the question “What do we owe our veterans – including those who have served, those who have been injured or disabled and the families that have lost someone?”
A committee from the Delaware County Intermediate Unit selected the winners from the 110 essays.
“We ask students to do research and do interviews with veterans so they get that firsthand experience,” said Adriene Irving, director of legislative and community services at the intermediate unit.
“The parade is about the younger generation – our kids, our grandkids – hoping they learn more about veterans and continue to honor them,” said McMahon, who serves as chairman of the Veterans Legacy Project, sponsor of the parade since 1993, and the Veterans National Education Program, both co-sponsors of the essay contest with the intermediate unit.
“That’s why we have fourth-graders from district elementary schools walking in the parade. Penncrest high school students unfurl the flag for the national anthem and Media Elementary School students are underneath supporting it.”
For the grand marshals, the 2017 parade was an opportunity to educate all ages about a little told part of the Vietnam War. Retired U.S. Army Nurse Capt. Maureen Robinson she adopted her son Mark at 3 years old after treating him during her second tour of duty from 1970-’71 in the Central Highlands. Maureen is a lifelong resident of Chester’s West End, while Mark is visiting from Pittsburgh, where he runs two restaurants.
Mark is a Montagnard, a group of indigenous peoples who moved into the Central Highlands centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese. The Montagnard were one of the Americans strongest allies during the war and still hold a strong bond with the U.S. Army Special Forces, whom they fight alongside in many missions.
“If I said ‘Montagnard,’ most people wouldn’t know what I was talking apart,” said Maureen Robinson. “I think that’s one of the saddest things from the war. There are [American] grandfathers, uncles, brothers walking around today because of Montagnards.”
According to Robinson, estimates place the Montagnards losing 50 percent of their male population and 85 percent of their villages during the war. Some who fled to Cambodia and continued to fight the communist Vietnamese government for over 15 years after the fall of Saigon. Human rights groups continue to focus on abuses they face around Southeast Asia.
Robinson has supported the efforts of Save the Montagnard People, Inc., formed in Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1997 by retired Special Forces soldiers to give them a safe haven in the United States. She and her son have conducted interviews with the Veterans Legacy Project and Veterans National Education Program to ensure this part of the war will not be lost on future students.
Along with the Montagnards’ story, she also wanted to take the opportunity as grand marshal to remind the public that a simple “thank you” goes a long way for her fellow veterans. “Especially for those who were in combat zones, ‘thank you for your service’ – that means a lot.