‘At a great cost’

Published 8:33 pm Monday, May 26, 2014

Flags were placed in front of every headstone at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in commemoration of Memorial Day.

Flags were placed in front of every headstone at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in commemoration of Memorial Day.

Suffolk commemorates Memorial Day 2014

By R.E. Spears III

and Tracy Agnew

A little more than two years after the death of her husband, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, a visit to his gravesite at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery still brings tears to the eyes of Joan Peters of Virginia Beach.

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Having arranged a variety of mementos — wreaths, flags and a tiny, saluting toy sailor — around the headstone of their husband, father and grandfather, Peters and her daughter and two grandchildren had a long, quiet hug before heading back to their vehicle at the end of Monday’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.

As they stepped away to speak to an awkward intruder, the sorrow was briefly overcome by pride.

Huddled at the foot of the grave of U.S. Navy Commander Master Chief Richard J. Peters on Monday were, from left, granddaughter Meagan Turner, 11, wife Joan Peters, grandson Mitchell Turner, 9, and daughter Andrea Turner. Richard Peters, a 28-year Navy veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, died in March 2012.

Huddled at the foot of the grave of U.S. Navy Commander Master Chief Richard J. Peters on Monday were, from left, granddaughter Meagan Turner, 11, wife Joan Peters, grandson Mitchell Turner, 9, and daughter Andrea Turner. Richard Peters, a 28-year Navy veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, died in March 2012.

Command Master Chief Richard J. Peters had served in both Korean and Vietnam before retiring from the Navy. And he had come from a “very patriotic family,” his daughter, Andrea Turner, said. In fact, an ancestor had fought for the colonies in the Revolutionary War. And Joan Peters’ father had fought Pancho Villa in Mexico after Villa’s attack of a town in New Mexico.

All of that made a military cemetery seem an appropriate choice for Richard Peters’ remains, but his survivors been told there would be a four-month wait for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

That’s when someone from the funeral home told them about the Horton veterans’ cemetery.

“This has been a godsend,” Turner said. “It’s just fabulous.”

Her mother has been to every wreath-laying and Memorial Day ceremony since her husband was laid to rest in Suffolk.

“The services are wonderful,” she said.

That’s the kind of response the cemetery’s namesake probably would have loved to hear. Now deceased, Chesapeake’s Horton first approached Randy Forbes about the need for a veterans’ cemetery in Hampton Roads when Forbes was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Forbes is now Virginia’s Fourth District representative in Congress. On Monday he recalled telling Horton the $8-million cost of such a facility would likely keep the cemetery on the drawing board.

Veterans Kermit Kelly, left, and Curtis MacKenzie salute the wreath they placed at the World War II memorial at Cedar Hill Cemetery during the American Legion Norman R. Matthews Post 57 ceremony on Monday.

Veterans Kermit Kelly, left, and Curtis MacKenzie salute the wreath they placed at the World War II memorial at Cedar Hill Cemetery during the American Legion Norman R. Matthews Post 57 ceremony on Monday.

“Will you try?” Forbes said he remembered Horton asking him. As the congressman — the keynote speaker at a Memorial Day event on Monday — related how the veterans’ cemetery had cleared one hurdle after another, he was met with applause from the crowd of several hundred who had come to mark the sacrifices of those veterans now buried in the cemetery that finally resulted from Horton’s lobbying efforts.

“I cannot drive into this cemetery or by this cemetery without getting a little teary-eyed or emotional,” he said.

Those buried there demonstrated that Americans have “a freedom and liberty that no other nation in the history of the world has had built into their DNA,” he said, and he noted that he had been encouraged on various occasions by military leaders from other countries to make sure America takes seriously the responsibility that comes with such freedom.

“We are the backstop for freedom around the world,” he said.

The Horton ceremony, organized by American Legion Nansemond Post 88, was one of two Memorial Day commemorations in Suffolk on Monday.

At Cedar Hill Cemetery, the Norman R. Matthews Post 57 of the American Legion hosted dozens of visitors who heard from guest speaker, U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Gusentine, and also watched the presentation of wreaths at each war memorial in the cemetery.

Commander Joe Garlitz said the ceremony would pay tribute to all 1.2 million service members who have died in 62 military actions since America’s birth.

“Our remembrance is all-encompassing,” he said.

Gusentine, who works at J-6 in North Suffolk, reflected on the many veterans buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

“I am humbled to stand before you to remember those who have died in service to this great nation,” he said.

Noting next year’s 60th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, Gusentine paid special tribute to veterans of that war and asked those in attendance to stand.

“Vietnam was a complex, intense involvement,” he said. “I hope my generation of warriors and patriots has lived up to their example.”

He also recognized the contributions of civilians, whose hard work and volunteerism on the home front also contributes to the nation’s sustained freedom, he said.

He quoted President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

“It comes at a great cost, which every generation must be prepared to pay,” Gusentine added.