Yorktown Day, 1981
October 19th, 1981, Yorktown Day, the 200th anniversary of the surrender of British forces to American forces in Yorktown, and the end of the Revolutionary War. As an 11-year old, I knew this was a significant moment in my life, and in my learning. I’d grown up on the battlefields of Yorktown – our playground whenever we went to visit Grandma. I’d heard the story of Lord Cornwallis surrendering to General Washington 1,000 times and the fife and drum rendition of “The World Turned Upside Down” just as many. It never got old. It never has.
Grandma’s house was loaded with visitors (to the point of people camping in the yard and sleeping on pallets under the dining room table). We had family there from all over the country, and dear friends from across the pond. I remember thinking, “hey, we beat the British to win this war, why are they here celebrating with us?” That wondering passed soon – these were family friends I’d known all my life and was in awe of their “foreign-ness” and fascinated (I’m sure) by their beautiful accents.
We took a ferry over from Gloucester Point to Yorktown early in the morning, along with hordes of other visitors – something like 60,000 that day in little ole Yorktown. I’d never seen so many people in one place. The battlefields, virtually empty on our regular visits, were filled with tourists from all over the world, re-enactors and their tents and props, horses, cannons and more.
Yorktown Victory Monument and Paratroopers, October 19, 1981
(Photo was taken, developed and printed by my father, Lewis H. “Bucky” Burruss and hangs in my living room)
We spent the whole day in Yorktown, watching re-enactments, climbing on the cannons per usual, and what else, I can’t remember, except for one thing.
I knew then there was a big, important reason we were there that day – to see President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, live and in person, speak to us and the world about this incredible commemoration. This was the first time I was seeing a U.S. President “up close” (we were SO far away from the reviewing stand!) and personal. And, as a seventh-grader and new French language student, I was just as excited to see French President, François Mitterrand speak that day as well. Would he speak in French? Would I understand him? I couldn’t wait to get back to Mrs. Baker at Irwin Jr. High and tell her all about it!
I still remember what was talked about that day – the battle and victory at Yorktown, the surrender of British forces, the vital role of the French in aiding our victory, the bond of friendship formed between our nation and Britain in the centuries since, and of course freedom, independence and democracy.
I often think back about what a great day that was in U.S. History, and an exciting one in my personal history. I’m grateful for the experience, and for parents and grandparents who understood the importance of being a part of it. It’s a day I’ll never forget. I’m thankful for how far we’ve come as a nation since 1781, and even since 1981, and I’m excited for the journey forward.