‘Spirit of Honor’

Published 8:57 pm Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bud Livers of Virginia Beach kneels in front of a columbarium at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery prior to the wreath-laying ceremony there on Saturday. Livers said people should “recognize even the (veterans) we don’t know."

Hundreds attend wreath-laying ceremony

Hundreds of people showed up at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk on Saturday to honor the departed veterans buried there by placing wreaths at the gravesites and spending some time in somber reflection of their service.

Sensitive to Friday’s tragic school massacre in Connecticut, which was still fresh in everyone’s minds as they stood outside in the chilly wind, U.S. Navy Capt. David M. McDuffie, the keynote speaker for the event, reminded people of the nation’s proud and resilient nature.

“What we are here for today is about something more enduring than any one person could wipe out,” he said.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Zachary Stauffer of the Naval Consolidated Brig at the Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex in Chesapeake salutes the grave of a deceased veteran after laying a wreath in front of its headstone prior to a special ceremony Saturday at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

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Drawing parallels to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” McDuffie told those who had come to honor the nation’s deceased veterans that they would encounter three spirits while roaming among the tombstones at the Horton cemetery.

They would “brush shoulders with the Spirit of Courage,” which says, “I stand for something greater than myself,” McDuffie explained.

They would meet the Spirit of Sacrifice, “which says, ‘No man stands as tall as when they stoop to help another.’” And they would meet the “bright, shining beacon” of the Spirit of Honor, he said.

After volunteers had laid 4,075 wreaths among the headstones and in front of the stone-walled columbarium at the veterans’ cemetery, officials held a ritual-filled ceremony in which large wreaths were set out for each branch of the military service, for prisoners of war and troops missing in action and for all military veterans.

“We honor them today by pledging to give of ourselves” to continue the work they did to protect the United States, Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “They have given us our way of life.”

“It’s such an honor to have the Horton cemetery here in our city,” she added.

Organizers with the Horton Wreath Society, which puts together the program and raises the funds for the purchase of wreaths each year, were pleasantly surprised by the turnout.

“This is huge,” said Betty Hand, second vice president of the organization. “The word is getting out that this is not just a Suffolk cemetery. It just gets bigger and better every year.”

Bud Livers, a retired lieutenant commander with the U.S. Navy, was at the event with a contingent of boy scouts from Virginia Beach Troop 419. They had come to help place wreaths prior to the ceremony, and Livers was taking a moment of reflection beside the columbarium wall.

He recalled being a student at Berkley University when soldiers returned from Vietnam and seeing how many were mistreated and scorned, and he contrasted that reception with the one he got coming home from operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

“I was so completely amazed by the difference 20 years could make,” he said. “People care about this. They care about the sacrifices (veterans) made.”

On Saturday, Livers had stopped and knelt in front of a marker at Horton, thinking of his father, who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and his mother, who died on Thursday, and taking time to think about the soldier he was quietly honoring at Horton cemetery.

“I don’t even know this guy,” he said. “But somebody needs to recognize even the ones we don’t know.”