Honoring the fallen
Memorial Day has thousands of meanings for Daniel Kemano.
Not only has the U.S. Navy retiree earned the right to call himself a veteran, but also he is the cemeteries director for the Virginia veterans’ cemeteries in Suffolk and Amelia, and a third under construction in Dublin.
Kemano manages the upkeep of the final resting places for about 3,200 veterans and their spouses at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk, with thousands more interred at the Amelia location. For him, it is another way to answer the call of duty to his country and honor those who paid the highest price for freedom.
“Whether they served a short period of time or did an extensive career, they earned it,” said Kemano, who retired from the Navy as a command master chief after serving 30 years. “This is a really good benefit.”
Kemano will oversee Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery at 10 a.m., where local television news anchor Kerri Furey and Sen. Louise Lucas will speak. Cemetery staff will be available to help visitors locate gravesites, and military service members and veterans can file pre-applications for future burial in the cemetery.
Kemano spends much of his time telling veterans in the area that there is a veterans’ cemetery close by and encouraging them to file pre-applications. Many don’t know about the cemetery, tucked away in the Lake Prince area, and those who do know often do not file pre-applications.
“When a death does occur,” Kemano said, “[a pre-application] is really easy to process, because we have all the documentation, instead of saying, ‘Well, we need the spouse to find the DD214.’ That’s hard.”
The state veterans’ cemeteries offer a benefit worth thousands of dollars to veterans. Interment of the veteran, opening and close of the grave, a granite marker and inscription, perpetual care and use of the committal shelter to conduct the service are all provided at no cost. Interment of a veteran’s spouse and eligible dependent children are provided for a $300 fee.
Even though many local veterans are unaware of the cemetery, Kemano and his staff are kept busy with burials. Every weekday in the month of May was marked with at least one burial. Most days, the cemetery hosted five or six services, some one right after the other.
“Some days, that’s all we can do is burials,” Kemano said. “Very few days do we not have any services.”
As a veteran who intends to be buried in the Horton cemetery, Kemano often finds himself defending the rights of veterans to receive the burial benefits.
“The veteran earned that by virtue of serving,” Kemano said. “We all had the opportunity to be a veteran. The ones that did serve, this is one of their benefits.”
The cemetery partners with numerous community organizations to place flags on every single gravesite on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and to place fresh wreaths at every gravesite during the Christmas season. Donations are accepted year-round for the cemetery’s Wreath Society, which requires more money every year to pay tribute to each veteran.
“It’s going to be well over 700 burials” this fiscal year, Kemano said. “Last year, it was 638. The year before that, 500 and some.”
In the midst of all the work that goes into maintaining the cemetery, however, Kemano still finds quiet moments to honor the veterans in his own way. He can look from his office in the administrative building and see rows upon rows of upright granite headstones.
“It looks like all our veterans are out here, in formation, standing at attention,” he said.