American Legion Past National Commander Denise Rohan traveled the streets of downtown Norfolk, Va., alongside U.S. and international military bands for the 66th annual NATO Parade of Nations the morning of April 27. Rohan was honored for her service in the military and for leading the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization from 2017-2018.
The parade was part of a larger event – the 23rd annual Virginia International Tattoo – that recognized Rohan, along with American Legion 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee member Diane Carlson Evans, a Vietnam War combat nurse, and the hundreds of thousands of women who served, and continue to serve, in the armed forces.
The Tattoo is a world-class event held inside Scope Arena the last weekend of April that is made up of nearly 1,000 military and civilian performers who fill the arena with a display of military and contemporary music, massed pipes and drums, drill teams, song and dance, and more to honor patriotism and freedom. This year’s performers represented eight nations (Australia, Canada, France, Jordan, Romania, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States), which supported the 2019 Tattoo theme, “Courage & Commitment: A Salute to Women in the Military,” through women veterans leading in music and instrument solos, video footage of women serving, and recognition on the floor of Scope Arena in front of a large audience.
On the evening of April 26 during the finale of the Tattoo, several women veterans walked onto the floor of Scope Arena, including Rohan and Evans. As their names were called an applause erupted from the crowd. The recognition was “beautiful and very touching” for Rohan who found it nice to be back in Virginia where she met her husband Mike, The American Legion's Marketing Commission chairman, in Fort Lee.
For PNC Rohan, the onstage recognition was another way to encourage both women and men to serve their country.
“Being in the military is something the youth today don’t really know anything about. So the more veterans and people in uniform can share their stories, explain to our youth what it’s about, the more chance it is that they will say it is a way to serve their country, it’s a way to get a new career,” Rohan said. “There’s so much about being in the military that people don’t understand, and so encouraging veterans to tell their story, no matter how old they are or how young they are, and go into the schools to share their stories, the young people will learn more about serving their country, about taking care of one another.
“Talking about your experience whenever you can is a big part of encouraging young people to join.”
Local American Legion Post 35 Commander Duncan “Pete” Thompson said he was happy after so many years to see the Tattoo salute women in the military. Thompson has participated in the Parade of Nations since 2007, driving his 1972 Ford M151/A2 jeep, “a combat survivor.” Positioned close behind Rohan in the parade, Thompson said he was glad Rohan was able to see the Tattoo.
The parade and Tattoo is “a lot of fun. I get to meet a lot of great people and see a lot of great floats,” Thompson said.
While recognizing Rohan and Evans for their service, the Tattoo also provided an opportunity for The American Legion to highlight its centennial. The American Legion’s four-panel “100 Years for God and Country” chronology exhibit was displayed inside Scope Arena for attendees to visit prior to watching the Tattoo. The exhibit drew in Legionnaires, those looking to join, and questions about the symbolism of the poppy flower.
The two-hour Tattoo featured several performances, among which was the military bands, pipes and drums of the eight nations performing together. This included the U.S. Marine Corps Band from Quantico, Va., the U.S. Fleet Forces Band, the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band, and the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums. Other performances included the U.S. Army Drill Team and an obstacle race by the U.S. Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team.
For more information about the Virginia International Tattoo, visit www.vafest.org/tattoo.