Lessons from the veterans’ cemetery

Published 4:40 pm Monday, December 13, 2010

It might be hard for most folks to imagine feeling uplifted upon leaving a cemetery. Yet that is exactly the feeling many people have when they leave ceremonies at the Albert G. Horton Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk. Whether they are taking part in the ceremonies on Memorial Day, Veterans Day or in December for the wreath-laying ceremony, Horton visitors often describe being inspired by the speakers, by the music or by the simple pageantry of those events.

One uplifting part of those ceremonies that’s sometimes overlooked, however, is the assortment of people participating in the programs. It’s always inspiring, of course, to look into an audience at a Veteran’s Day program there and see veterans wearing their VFW and American Legion caps. And one cannot fail to be impressed when driving or walking along a line of large American flags flown over dozens of motorcycles parked along the cemetery’s main entrance road.

But what really gives us hope is the number of young people who are increasingly involved as volunteers in the cemetery’s programs. During Saturday’s Wreaths Across America program, for example, dozens of teens and young adults pitched in to lay out nearly 3,000 wreaths on gravesites all around the developed portions of the cemetery.

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Those young volunteers came from area ROTC programs and from other school groups. Some were Civil Air Patrol cadets. There were Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. And there was the occasional youth who had been brought along just because a parent thought it would be good exposure.

In fact, visiting the veterans’ cemetery — especially during an event like Saturday’s — is terrific exposure for a generation that feels less connected than ever to our nation’s history and to its founding principles. Spending time with the surviving veterans who flock to the programs held at the Horton facility gives teenagers a unique perspective on and insight into the sacrifices that have been made to assure their freedom.

But the benefit goes both ways. As adults attending the events see the involvement of the younger generation there, they can enjoy a measure of comfort regarding the future of the republic. Today’s polite, service-minded Girl Scout could well turn out to be tomorrow’s Air Force captain. The ROTC cadet placing wreaths on graves on Saturday might one day return to Hampton Roads to help place a new aircraft carrier in service.

No matter where they wind up, though, the young participants in Saturday’s event at the Horton veterans’ cemetery will surely find that the lessons they learned there will be long held and much cherished.