Remembering the fallen
Published 5:16 pm Monday, May 25, 2015
Joe Torres Sr. set a brisk pace along the rows of gravestones at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery on Monday.
From one row to the next, he wound his way among the grave sites in the cemetery’s newest section — the one with the freshest graves and the highest concentration of grieving family members — on a morning when hundreds of people had come to the cemetery to participate in its annual Memorial Day ceremony and pay their respects to the thousands of deceased veterans laid to rest at Horton.
Torres’ stride was quick and purposeful, and his outstretched right hand trailed alongside, fingers running along the top of every grave marker as he passed it, his head bowed slightly, protected beneath a New York Yankees baseball cap.
Email newsletter signup
“There are so many mothers, brothers, sisters and cousins” whose loved ones are buried at Horton, he said during a quick break in his self-appointed rounds. “It’s just my way of saying, ‘Rest in peace. You did well.’”
Torres was visiting Hampton Roads from Florida this weekend, and he said his son, a retired 27-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, had brought him to Monday’s ceremony as a surprise.
They were there specifically to visit the grave of a close friend of the family, Lt. Sean Snyder, a Navy helicopter pilot who died in the crash of an MH-53E Sea Dragon during a training mission off the coast of Virginia Beach on Jan. 8, 2014.
“My son takes it very hard,” Torres said.
That son, Joe Torres Jr., watched from nearby with his mother.
“The memories are very fresh still,” he said of his father. “It’s good for him. It’s very cathartic.”
Nearby, the Feliciano family stood in a circle and held hands and prayed by a bench that looks over one of the cemetery’s older sections.
Amber Feliciano, who retired after 20 years in the U.S. Navy, and her husband, Romy, who served five years, have made a tradition of visiting the Horton cemetery each Memorial Day with their three children, Kayla, Malia and Tyler.
“We just come here every year to remind the kids that freedom isn’t free,” Romy said.
Each year, the children choose one deceased veteran to honor. They place a flag at the grave and then join hands with their parents, and each pray individually for the lost veteran’s family.
“We just want them to know how precious what they’ve got really is,” Amber said.
That thought was similar to the message Sgt. Maj. Jim Thompson had for those who had come to the cemetery for the ceremony Monday morning.
Noting that the Declaration of Independence’s brave ideals were “nothing more than a declaration” without the sacrifice of those who were willing to fight for the freedom the document proclaimed, he urged visitors to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women of the U.S. armed forces throughout American history.
“Let us never forget them,” he said. “Let us never forget this day.”
After the ceremony, Edith Dodd, weeping before the grave of Cecil Dodd, her husband of 51 years, was clearly one of those who will never forget.
The Portsmouth woman never misses a Memorial Day ceremony at Horton, and she often visits at other times with her dog, “his best buddy, Stevie,” she said, nodding toward the grave marker.
She met her husband when he was serving in her native Germany, she said, and they married and came back to the states together.
The couple have eight grandchildren, and Dodd said she mourns the fact that her husband will not see the youngest of those children grow up.
“It’s always sad,” she said of her visits to Horton. “I keep telling him that one day, I’ll come out here, and I won’t cry anymore.”