Mount Vernon High School honors Marine Corps JROTC program founders

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Members of the original class of Mount Vernon High School's Marine Corps JROTC program join Col. DeHoust and 1st Sgt. Medley in the wing named for them.

Dozens of Mount Vernon High School (MVHS) students and alumni, family members and community members converged on the school Jan. 31 for a special ceremony honoring the men who founded and led the school’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (MCJROTC) program for many years. Alumni came from as far as California and New Jersey to share memories and stories about the honorees, who had a wing of the school dedicated to them.

Retired Col. Walter DeHoust and retired 1st Sgt. Willie Medley started the MCJROTC program at MVHS in fall 1995 and served as instructors for student cadets and as coaches for several school sports teams. DeHoust, who retired from MVHS in 2012 after 17 years with the MCJROTC program, said he initially thought the job was going to be an easy one but that he “learned better.” He credited Medley with being the more “aggressive” of the two instructors.

“It made for a much better program when I was hesitant,” said DeHoust. “I would do things, and he’d fix things.”

Retired Col. Walter DeHoust, a founder of the MCJROTC program at Mount Vernon HS, makes remarks.

Medley, who retired from MVHS in 2015 after 20 years of service, recalled how while visiting a high school with a JROTC program during his military days, he noticed how disciplined and respectful the cadets were compared to other students. He immediately knew his future vocation.

“I said this is what I want to do when I get out of the Marine Corps,” said Medley, who added that his two decades at Mount Vernon were “very, very, very good for me.”

During the ceremony honoring their service to the school, MCJROTC cadets conducted a presentation of colors, which was followed by remarks by MVHS principal Jovon Rogers, who expressed gratitude for the honorees’ impact on the Mount Vernon community. Next, Nardos King, chief equity officer with Fairfax County Public Schools, read aloud a resolution passed by the Fairfax County School Board in December to officially rename the MCJROTC wing at MVHS after the program’s founders. Under their leadership, she noted, the program saw consistent participation and averaged between 140 and 160 students annually from 1995 through 2015.

Student cadets from Mount Vernon High School's MCJROTC program prepare to present the colors.

The MCJROTC program’s current senior Marine instructor, Maj. Melvin Burch-Bynum, described the school’s cadets as “the nation’s best hope for the future.” Noting that his current job is harder than active-duty work, Burch-Bynum — who was named FCPS’s Outstanding Secondary School New Teacher for 2023 — said his young cadets mean everything to him.

Several graduates of the cadet program under DeHoust and Medley took the stage to express their deep appreciation for the values and discipline the leaders instilled in them. A few of the speakers were members of the original MCJROTC class, including one woman who said she was treated the same as other cadets despite expecting a baby. Now the mother of a proud Marine, she said they would “not be where we are today if it wasn’t for you guys.”

Other alumni of the program fondly recalled trips to Quantico, Virginia and Parris Island, South Carolina, crediting their former instructors with providing them with life lessons and experiences they couldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

Following the remarks and reflections, it was time to officially cut the ribbon at the newly named “Colonel DeHoust and First Sergeant Medley Marine Corps JROTC Wing” — the hallway at the school where MCJROTC classrooms are located.

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