‘Honor the memory’Published 11:28pm Monday, May 27, 2013
Alice Young sat on the fold-down seat of her walker, forehead resting in the crook of her frail arm, her age-bent frame hitching slightly as she wept beside the grave where Robert F. Young, her husband of more than 32 years, has lain since his death at the age of 74 last June.
On Monday, Alice Young and hundreds of others visited the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk, where Robert Young, a retired staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and a veteran of the Vietnam War, is buried among vast rows of other deceased American veterans.
Young, a Purple Heart recipient, had “always wanted to be in a veterans’ cemetery,” his wife said through tears, and the throng in Suffolk on Monday was there to honor him and the other members of the U.S. armed forces buried there.
As always during the annual Memorial Day service at Horton, ceremonial wreaths were laid in front of a memorial wall, guest speakers talked about courage and sacrifice and musical interludes included “Taps” played live on a bugle.
“We stand proudly on the shoulders of giants,” Rear Adm. Mark A Handley had told the crowd assembled for the ceremony.
“Every service member that has died in the line of duty is clearly one of those giants,” he added, describing a cross-section of American military heroes stretching back to the Revolutionary War.
Handley is deputy commander of the U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and has served in the Navy for 32 years. With his retirement set for Friday, he said, Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony was especially important to him.
“This is a special honor, and I can think of no better place to be than on this hallowed ground with you,” he said.
“America must remember that freedom is not free,” Gerald Rhoads, a leader in the American Legion Nansemond Post 88 in Suffolk, said during his own speech.
“There are many tangible things that we can do to honor the memory of our fallen heroes,” he added. “First and foremost is taking care of their families. We can offer shoulders to cry on … and assure them that their loved one’s sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
Following the ceremony, as some people spread out through the growing cemetery and others got in their cars to leave and enjoy the rest of the holiday, it appeared that at least one person had taken note of Rhoads’ suggestion.
As Alice Young sat beside her husband’s grave and mourned, Elaine Breedlove of Hampton — who was unknown by Alice Young or Young’s daughter Deborah Woolford, who was helping her mother — walked to the grave and embraced the obviously distressed elderly woman.
“I’m a stranger to them,” Woolford said before rejoining her family and preparing to leave the cemetery following the ceremony. “It just looked like she needed comforting.”
It was a simple act of kindness to Alice Young and of appreciation to Robert Young, who, like so many others had given so much of his life in service to his country.