YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) — A Yorktown church honored servicemembers who fought and served across a span of nearly 400 years.
Grace Episcopal Church, which was built in 1697, can trace its origins to the 1630s, according to Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Al Crane. Crane has been a member of the church since the 1980s and started its Memorial Day Service tradition around twenty years ago.
“We thought it would be a way to honor all the veterans we had buried here,” Crane said.
In the church’s cemetery lives church members who fought in pre-Revolutionary conflicts all the way up until the Cold War.
“We thought we only had 20 or 30,” said Crane about the number of veterans buried at Grace Episcopal. “As we started doing research, people from the parish would help. Also, Thomas Nelson, Jr., who is related to Gov. Thomas Nelson Jr., he did a lot of genealogical work. Since then, we’ve identified and we’re up to 103 men and women who have served in the United States military.”
It’s the first time the church has held the service in-person since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Crane says it’s not just an event for the church but also visitors from the community and out of state, including the Combat Veterans Motorcycle group.
“It’s very rewarding and especially to share with people. So many people help with this ceremony. It makes it easy because people want to do their part. Even though it’s a three-day weekend, we want to take the time to remember those who served us and their families too, who stayed behind when their loved ones went overseas,” he said.
For church member and Army veteran Patrick Washburn, participating in the event is closely linked to family.
His father, Army veteran Donald Washburn, started the event with Crane.
Washburn, who served two combat tours in the Vietnam War, died in 2016.
As the oldest child, Washburn says it was a difficult time for him.
“I was spending a lot of time at my father’s gravesite trying to find a way to show respect and honor. So, the cemetery committee invited me to participate and so I was really honored they asked me to help out and help with the Veteran’s and Memorial Day Service, as well as what else can be done to show appreciation,” he said.
Now each year, Washburn reads of the names of the 103 who rest at Grace Episcopal.
“It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to do that because of the sacrifices of previous generations and current generations that affords me and all Americans the opportunities to enjoy life and to have a huge advantage over other parts of the world. They’re the reason why this country is so great because of the sacrifices they willingly made,” he said.
Grace Episcopal Church will also hold a Veteran’s Day event in November.