NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Two U.S. Navy veterans, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) and state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) were among those gathered at West Point Cemetery this Memorial Day to honor fallen African American soldiers, and mark a rebirth of the graveyard on East Princess Anne Road.
Luria spoke about what it’s like to lose comrades in battle and why this particular cemetery has special meaning.
“It’s an incredibly difficult loss to the command, to the unit, to our country, every time we lose someone in battle or in service,” Luria said.
More than 1,000 African American soldiers are buried there. They fought for the Union during the Civil War, a sacrifice that often goes unnoticed.
“To think that they served and gave their life in service to our country, and they weren’t even considered citizens at the time,” Luria said.
Several groups led by the Daughters of the American Revolution made it their mission to bring a greater sense of purpose to this garden of stone. The Daughters of the American Revolution put together a “never forget” garden, meant to add color and also another symbol of why we need to always remember.
Professor and historian Cassandra Newby-Alexander of Norfolk State University gave context to the meaning beneath the headstones.
“On this Memorial program in 2021, the idea of remembering the actions of those who sacrificed to protect our nation must be also expanded to include acknowledging and repairing past wrongs,” She said.
“[These were] men who were born as slaves, but joined and fought in the Union Army and lost their lives to gain their freedom and protect the freedom that we know today as Americans,” Luria said.
The facelift for the West Point Cemetery was coordinated through the city department of cemeteries along with the Norfolk Society for cemetery conservation.
Darrell Crittendon, Norfolk director of Recreation, Parks and Open Spaces, shared how he learned what a hero was from his military father.
“A hero is someone who has given their lives to something bigger than themselves,” he said.
Kiggans, a veteran Navy helicopter pilot, talked about the need to remember and honor those who lost their lives in service.
“I remember each missing man formation I witnessed as a shipmate, a squadron mate, or a friend was venerated in that most sacred tradition of naval aviation,” Kiggans said.