Parade participants: A historic march for Fishburne Military School


Fishburne Military School Corps of Cadets were chosen to march in the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade held Friday, Jan. 20.
Photo courtesy of Fishburne Military School

Standing alongside a maze of barriers and security zones flanking Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. a small-yet determined group of Fishburne Military School alumni and families of current cadets waited amid intermittent drizzle to witness their beloved school march in the Presidential Inauguration Parade for the 45th President of the United States Donald J. Trump.

The entire Fishburne battalion of cadets and band, numbering 160 cadets passed the reviewing stand in the early evening accomplishing a mission that had begun in the predawn hours from the front parapet of the historic school. The military school was among approximately 80 organizations, colleges and armed forces units marching in the 1.5 mile parade that originated in 1801 with Thomas Jefferson.

Fishburne Military School (FMS) is located in Waynesboro, Virginia and it was founded in 1879. It is the oldest and smallest military school for boys in Virginia. The parade marked the first time that the school’s cadet battalion had marched in a presidential inauguration. Previously, in its history it had marched in review for President Calvin Coolidge, marched in the inaugural parade of the 65th Governor of Virginia Gerald Baliles (a graduate of FMS) along with parades for Chiefs of the Staff of the Army Gen. George C. Marshall and more recently Gen. Eric Shinseki, according to the Waynesboro Historical Commission.

“For those of us who attended Friday it equaled 12 hours on our feet in light to medium drizzle that came and went all day—but it climaxed with 45 seconds of seeing a new generation of cadets marching by us,” said Jon Bailey, a 1985 graduate of FMS and the school’s Outstanding Alumni of the Year from Spotsylvania.

To those in attendance it was a short but sweet nostalgic glimpse of the newest brothers marching in a long gray line that stretches unbroken through history from 1879 to 2017. The “the little school on the hill” as it was once called, had former graduates tuning in from across the nation and globe from South America, Asia, Caribbean, Middle East and even the mountains of Afghanistan.

In the region there are a number of Fishburne Military School graduates, who either attended or tuned in to see the cadets march in the 58th Inaugural Parade.

“I watched on television with a deep sense of pride and joy as the Corps of Cadets, whom I consider brothers from another time, made their way down the parade route and passed the reviewing stand. The tenets of integrity, loyalty, pride, and camaraderie were the main things I took away from my years at the school. These traits seem to be lacking in many of today’s institutions,” said Darius Vesuna, a 1985 graduate of FMS and Investment Advisor for BB&T Scott & Stringfellow in Culpeper. “Cadets from FMS come from different countries, religions, and races, yet we all seemed to be able to come together and remain brothers to this day.  I believe the institution and it is still quite relevant in today’s world.  It gave me the ability to interact successfully with a very diverse group as well as the ability to make sense and create order in often chaotic situations.”

“No matter which candidate or party one was in favor of, the bottom line is the importance of our peaceful transition of power from one administration to another and the deep respect one should observe for the Office of President of these United States,” added Vesuna. “I carry with me to this day many of the lessons I learned there. My clients depend on me to act with honesty, integrity, and the ability to make sense and execute well laid plans under often chaotic markets.”

Andrew Ferlazzo, who attended FMS for four years, is owner of the downtown Culpeper restaurant Grass Rootes. He echoed the same level of pride in seeing his former school marching in the parade.

“I watched the cadets with great pride. It brought back many memories for me,” said Ferlazzo. “When I attended FMS I played saxophone in Band Company. I recall how proud I was to march in local parades like the Apple Blossom in Winchester back in the mid 1980s.”

In nearby Washington, D.C., Ted Moroney, FMS class of 1973, watched the parade from his home.

“The sight of the Corps of Cadets, in step, arms swinging in unison, marching to the familiar beat of the drummers, transported me back 44 years to my days at Fishburne. Those sights, sounds and moments left me awash in emotion and most of all pride for the cadets, the school and its tradition and history.”

In Boston, Virginia, Rick Hess, a retired law enforcement officer (FMS class of 1970) tuned in with a large measure pride and gleefully posted his thoughts on social media.

“Fishburne Military School’s cadets were given a great honor. The cadets showed up in stellar form. They showed the excellence required of such an honor as they displayed the finest qualities instilled in cadets at FMS. The cadets showed discipline and sharpness under pressure, while rising above and beyond the average young man in grades 7 through 12.  As a graduate my feelings of seeing my old high school on a national stage caused my heart to swell and skip many beats as our cadets stepped briskly in front of the President of the United States,” said Hess. “The participation of Fishburne Military School is a great experience for the young men to put in their cache of memories and experiences. This event launched the school onto the national stage. Politics were not a thought in participation but a building block teaching the cadets that anything is possible if you reach for it. These young men showed the result of hard work and the ability to be the best they could have been. Any parent thinking of giving something special to a young man should know that attending FMS is a gift of a lifetime.”

Fishburne’s current superintendent Captain Mark E. Black (US Navy Retired) was elated with the school’s historic participation in the parade.

“I am of course extremely proud of both the staff and Corps.  They both performed like champions,” said Black.

Marshall Conner is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. He is also a proud graduate of Fishburne Military School. You may reach him at kelpiescot@gmail.com

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