‘We shall never forget’

Published 7:14 pm Monday, May 28, 2012

Sandra Sarka of Virginia Beach cries softly as she leans against the columbarium where her husband’s ashes are interred at the Albert G. Horton Memorial Veterans Cemetery on Monday. Sarka was one of hundreds who attended the cemetery’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.


Hundreds attend Horton ceremony

Hundreds of people were on hand Monday at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery for a ceremony that has become increasingly popular for those wishing to show their support of the U.S. military.

The annual Memorial Day ceremony featured the traditional laying of wreaths at the cemetery’s memorial wall and a veritable sea of flags waving in the breeze under threatening skies Monday morning.

Phyllis Lightfoot salutes the flag during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Albert G. Horton Memorial Veterans Cemetery. Lightfoot is a member of the Tidewater Tidal Waves, Unit 152, a Sea Service women’s organization for women who have served or are currently serving in one of the sea services. Lightfoot served in the Navy in Long Beach during the Korean War.


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Veterans from wars and other military actions going back to World War II were recognized, with two World War II survivors getting a standing ovation.

But the point of the ceremony was to honor those soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who fell in battle while serving their nation.

“We shall now resolve to never forget the memory of those who have gone before us,” Capt. Daniel Shultz told those gathered under cloudy but clearing skies at the Horton cemetery.

“Every warrior we have lost has broken a family — has broken a heart.”

Shultz, who said he grew up hearing stories about World War II from his father “and a group of gentlemen who were World War II veterans,” enlisted in the Navy as a machinist mate recruit on his 17th birthday.

During his career he rose through the ranks of enlisted men and then started at the bottom of the ladder as an officer, again rising through the ranks to his current position as captain.

He earned the Bronze Star with Valor for acts of heroism on the battlefield as officer in charge of the Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell in Iraq. Currently he serves as the assistant chief of staff for War-fighter Readiness and Training at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

Looking out over a crowd filled with veterans, Shultz said, “What I see is a life experience of great depth,” and he urged those attending to take the time to listen to the stories of those men and women who had served their country in combat, because their stories tell the legacy of heroes whose last trip home was in a flag-draped coffin.

“Once you have served, you look behind the veil,” he said. “And when you lose a fellow warrior, you will never be the same.”

Shultz said Memorial Day has special significance for him, as he might not have been alive to celebrate it without the brave actions of a group of U.S. marines when he was serving in Iraq.

“To me, it’s the sound of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2004 breaking through the (enemy lines) when we were on our last roof,” he said.

Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson gave a keynote address in which she told the veterans and families of those who had lost their lives in battle, “‘Thank you’ is never going to be enough.”

Many of those attending had fathers, grandfathers, husbands, brothers, mothers and sisters buried in the veterans’ cemetery. As they walked through the cemetery, with flags posted at each gravestone and fluttering along the sidewalks, family members stopped to touch the names of their loved ones, spend a few moments with their memories and, in many cases, snap family photos.

“I came to pay my respects to all veterans, but especially to the ones who fell in war, because they didn’t have a chance to fulfill their purpose in life,” said Sandra Sarka, whose husband of 45 years, Robert, died in December. His ashes are entombed at the Horton cemetery, and she grieved there by the columbarium wall for a few moments as the rest of the crowd passed by on its way to other parts of the cemetery.

Robert Sarka had left for Vietnam three months after the couple were married, and he had come home to spend a long life with his bride at the end of his tour of duty.

“I felt how lucky I was that I had 45 years with him,” she said, reflecting on the ceremony honoring those who had died in combat.

“I hope the general public appreciates what (members of the military) do for our country.”