‘Among heroes’

Published 10:23 pm Saturday, December 10, 2011

Carol McClelland sits at her husband Harry’s gravesite at Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery during the wreath-laying ceremony on Saturday. The Horton Wreath Society raised nearly $30,000 to place a wreath at each gravesite at the Milners Road facility.

More than 3,000 wreaths laid at Horton cemetery

Seven-year-old Ryan Tromba read carefully as his mom pointed to the words.

“James K. Criss. U.S. Navy. Vietnam. April 1, 1949 to May 29, 2006.”

A short distance away, Jennifer Price and her son Taylor, also 7, went through a similar ritual.

Email newsletter signup

“James B. Curtis,” Taylor read. “U.S. Navy. World War II, Korea and Vietnam. 1924 to 2006.”

A few rows over, Carol McClelland sat on a blanket, talking to her husband’s gravestone. The snowman balloons she had brought danced in the cold breeze.

“I can’t get over how many graves have been put in here since he died,” she said after taking a picture of Harry McClelland’s wreath-adorned stone.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out Saturday morning to Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk to help place wreaths on each of the more than 3,000 gravesites at the burial ground. A couple hundred braved the cold weather to remain at the cemetery for the official ceremony, which corresponded with Wreaths Across America tributes throughout the country.

“These wreaths that have been laid are symbols of love and gratefulness to each of our veterans,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said during the ceremony. “We stand in this hallowed place today among heroes that believed in America.”

The wreaths for the annual event were purchased with money raised by the Horton Wreath Society. Leader Jeanne Banks said the donations ranged from $2 to $1,000.

Groups including active-duty and retired military members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Patriot Guard Riders and other motorcycle groups, Gold Star Mothers and Blue Star Mothers, and many others helped to lay the wreaths and then participated in the ceremony.

“I’m amazed at the turnout of people I’ve seen here today,” said Chief Warrant Officer Phillip Brashear, U.S. Army. “The speech that I had wouldn’t do justice to what’s going on here today.”

Brashear, the keynote speaker, shared stories about piloting helicopters in the Middle East while watching hundreds of tracer rounds whizzing by his Chinook.

“That was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life, I thought,” he said. “If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”

After the speakers, the crowd moved back to the burial spaces, where active-duty military members ceremoniously placed wreaths on the last row of graves. Each in turn picked up a wreath, moved forward, propped it up against the gravestone, took a step back and raised a slow salute, then moved back to their starting point.

The process was repeated 25 times in silence, ending in a bugler playing “Taps” and a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.”

“The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” said Lt. Col. Dean Gould of the Virginia Wing Civil Air Patrol. “To those that gave their lives so this nation would remain free, we will not forget you.”