Wreaths to remember, and to revere

Published 10:07 pm Monday, December 16, 2019

Amanda Jarboe carefully placed a wreath for her late husband, Neal A. Jarboe. Her fingers neatly arranged the ribbon on the evergreen wreath, and she sat in front of his headstone for a time in silence.

She was one of the hundreds of friends, family and other volunteers who came together Saturday morning to place approximately 10,000 live evergreen wreaths on each marker in the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

Neal Jarboe died on Jan. 30 at the age of 32, after a five-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer, Amanda said. He was a corpsman for the U.S. Navy and a member of Believers Church in Suffolk, according to his memorial page on findagrave.com.

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Amanda described him as one of “the funniest people I know.” He was a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan and, alas, a Dallas Cowboys fan — “that’s his No. 1 fault, and that’s all right,” she said about his football team.

She said that he loved his 7-year-old daughter Reese Jarboe unconditionally, and that he loved his country. Amanda, who is active duty Navy, said he would have continued to serve if he didn’t get sick.

“He loved his job, and I’m sure he loves being here,” she said.

Neal Jarboe was one of the many who were remembered and honored at the 11th annual wreath-laying ceremony held by the Horton Wreath Society, a nonprofit that raises funds each year to place wreaths at Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

Family members with interred loved ones, and many more volunteers, placed wreaths Saturday morning on all markers in the cemetery. Volunteers handed out these wreaths to long lines of people at the trucks positioned throughout the cemetery.

The skies were gray, the ground was slick with mud and water from the night before and early morning. But the conditions didn’t slow down the people who came out to pay their respects, one wreath at a time.

“It looks like we don’t have as many people as last year, and it’s probably due to the weather, but all of the trucks are being efficiently emptied,” said Mike Yarbrough, president of the Horton Wreath Society, adding his gratitude to the volunteers that supported the event. “They really honored our veterans. I appreciate it.”

It was Catrina Mitchell’s second year participating in the annual event. Mitchell and her 24-year-old daughter, Desmonee’, were there to place wreaths for Mitchell’s late uncle, Alonza Boone Jr., and her late mother, Pinky C. Boone-Brown.

After serving for 26 years, Alonza Boone Jr. retired from the U.S. Army as a Chief Warrant Officer 4, according to his online memorial page. He died on Dec. 2, 2007, at the age of 58. Pinky Boone-Brown, also an Army veteran, died on July 12, 2018, at the age of 64.

Catrina Mitchell said that her mother and uncle were both great people who loved their time in the service.

“They loved their country, and they loved what they did,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell first came out to the annual wreath laying event last year, after her mother died. She said it’s a “humbling” experience to see so many people volunteer to honor the brave men and women buried at the veterans’ cemetery.

“It’s kind of overwhelming with emotion to actually see this,” she said. “It’s something that I enjoy doing every year.”

“It’s beautiful,” said her daughter Desmonee’. “I’m so grateful to see so many people coming out to honor our veterans that served. It looks amazing out here.”

After the last wreath was placed, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, Virginia’s Deputy Secretary for Veterans and Defense Affairs Kathleen Jabs, and others gathered at the committal shelter for the closing ceremony.

Congressman Bobby Scott thanked everyone for coming out on the cold, wet Saturday morning to show respect to these veterans during the holiday season.

“We’re enjoying the holiday season, and we always show respect on Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” Scott said. “But while we enjoy the holiday season, I think it’s appropriate that we show respect to our veterans, because we’re enjoying the holiday because of their sacrifice — and don’t forget the sacrifice of their families.”

The holiday season is an especially appropriate time of year to remember this, as people think about their own friends and families, said Navy Rear Adm. Kenneth Epps, the guest speaker for the event.

Close to 10,000 wreaths were placed at the cemetery on Saturday “in reverence to someone who was called away from home and family to defend our freedoms and to serve our country,” he said.

They shall be revered now and always.

“As a Navy man, and the third generation of my family to serve, I am honored to be in your presence and to thank you in person,” Epps said. “From my father, his brothers, and my grandfather who all served, we thank you. For the veterans who lie here with us — and to all those past, present and future — we thank you.

“Your expression of gratitude, remembrance and honor touches us all, and we cannot show you enough gratitude for what you do for us and for what you’ve done for us today, so thank you.