Hundreds of veterans join officials for groundbreaking of cemetery in Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 8, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

With a turn of the soil and delivery of a mock $6.5 million check, the long-awaited Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery moved a step closer to reality on Monday.

Gov. Mark Warner, Rep. Randy Forbes and Gen. John &uot;Jack&uot; Nicholson, under secretary for memorial affairs, along with more than a dozen other local and state leaders, turned out for the groundbreaking of state’s newest veterans’ cemetery. Approximately 250 veterans joined them at the event.

Email newsletter signup

Located on 76 acres at the intersection of Lake Prince and Milners roads, the cemetery will provide a final resting place for the more than 150,000 veterans living in Hampton Roads. The next closest is in Amelia County.

Although the federal government is footing the construction bill, the state will pay for its upkeep.

The cemetery will be built in three phases, with the first scheduled for completion in September 2004. That phase will involve clearing and grading approximately 26 acres for the creation of 10,000 ground burial plots, 2,100 in-ground plots for interred remains, and 1,920 columbarium niches for the above-ground interment of ashes.

The cemetery is being named in memory of Albert G. Horton Jr., a former Chesapeake man who initiated efforts to have it located in the area. He began the legislative push in 1996 after realizing that the closest burial site for him and his wife would be in Amelia. Horton died last fall, while at the computer typing a letter related to the cemetery.

With more than 780,000 veterans living in Virginia and Hampton Roads having the nation’s largest military concentration, it is fitting that the state’s second veterans cemetery is in the region, said Gov. Mark Warner.

Nicholson agreed, saying that the cemetery will be opening at a critical time as the number of veterans dying annually has increased dramatically in recent years.

&uot;Today, 1,800 veterans will die,&uot; he said. &uot;It is expected to peak in 2008, when 676,000 will die.

&uot;The challenge today is to make space available for those who desire to be interred in veterans cemeteries.&uot;

Once burials begin, the Suffolk cemetery will become hallowed ground, where future generations will gather to mark Patriot’s Day, Memorial Day and the like.

&uot;We will preserve with monuments and memorials the accomplishments of these heroes…who risked their lives to serve our nation,&uot; Nicholson said. &uot;…This cemetery will be maintained as a national shrine.&uot;

Approximately 200 veterans attended the ceremony, many saying they had been waiting for years to see the project clear the necessary red-tape hurdles.

&uot;It’s about time,&uot; said Jim Hornshaw, a U.S. Navy retiree who began working on the project in 1996. &uot;I wasn’t sure this day would ever come. &uot;It’s the best thing that’s ever happened.&uot;

The cemetery will fill a huge gap in Hampton Roads’ veterans’ community, added John Sutton, in the Navy for 20 years before retiring in 1971.

&uot;There’s a definite need for this. There is so space left in Hampton (where another veterans cemetery is located),&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve been looking forward to another cemetery opening.

&uot;For veterans, it is a great honor to be buried in a military cemetery.&uot;

Veteran Jerry O’Neill of Smithfield said he won’t be buried there, having already made plans to donate his body to science.

&uot;But I came out here to pay my respect to the veterans and the people who did all this work for us.&uot;