Return to in-person Memorial Day ceremony comforts Richmond veteran: 'I wasn't going to miss out'

Posted at 6:36 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 10:30:54-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hundreds of people attended the Commonwealth’s Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond. It was the first in-person event at the memorial since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many events to go virtual in 2020.

"I speak for all of us here at the Memorial when I say -- it's been too long," Dr. Clay Mountcastle, Virginia War Memorial Director, said to kick off the Memorial Day ceremony. "For all the claims of what the American public has or has not had to sacrifice during the pandemic -- today, should remind us of the true meaning of sacrifice and the real meaning of freedom."

Barbara Gentry, of Richmond, was among those who welcomed the return of the in-person event.

"I think it's important that we do have these programs and that we are allowed to come out and gather like that," Gentry said.

On this Memorial Day Gentry said she was remembering her friends who died in Vietnam and her father who survived World War II.

"He was injured and had to come home, but I appreciate every one of them that sacrificed their lives for me," she said.

Graham Nelms, a veteran of both World War II and Korea, also attended the service. In fact, he's never missed a ceremony.

Graham Nelms.png

"I wasn't going to miss out on this one, either, if I could help it," he said.

Nelms said being back at the memorial left him with a sense of patriotism.

"I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had for a million dollars," he said.

Since the last Memorial Day ceremony, the names of four Virginians have been added to the Shrine of Memory.

"Each year on Memorial Day, we take a moment to honor those Virginians whose names were added to the Shrine of Memory in the past year," Mountcastle said. "As often is the case, the names are not the most recent losses to war, but identities that were brought to our attention by family or friends during the year and that we were able to verify and finally add to their rightful place of remembrance. These names are here now permanently. They will endure long after we are gone. These names will remain.

Those added to the Shrine of Memory include:

Richard J., Harris, of Henrico, killed in action during the Korean War.
Ben Maxwell, of Appomattox, killed in the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut.
Donald May, of Richmond, killed in action in Iraq in 2003.
Humayun Khan, of Bristow, killed in action in Iraq in 2004.

You can watch the complete Memorial Day ceremony here.

Seven Pines National Cemetery Service

Meanwhile over in Henrico County, dozens attended the resumption of an annual Memorial Day service at Seven Pines National Cemetery hosted by the Sandston American Legion Post 242.

"We made our mind up that we were going to have it this year," said Post Commander Temple Ancarrow. "To honor these soldiers buried here at Seven Pines that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom."

The cemetery is the final resting place for veterans stretching back to the Civil War, but also has more recent interments -- including who Ancarrow said was the last person to be buried here -- U.S. Army Col. Thomas Felts, who was killed in Iraq on November 14, 2006.

Felts was from Sandston and one of cousins, Deborah Martin, attended Monday's service.

"I think it means a lot more to me these days, particularly since I am a retired veteran," said Martin, who served 20 years in the Army reserves as a nurse. "And to see all of these flags that were placed here on Friday, there's a lot of people here that have lost their lives as a result of fighting for our freedom."

Colonial Heights Service

Colonial Heights held a Memorial day service at the city's war memorial.

Dozens attended the service which featured speeches, wreath laying, and a drums and pipes band.

"It's extremely important," said Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2239 Commander Richard Jefferson. His group co-hosted the service. "So, we don't forget the young men and women that have gone out here and gave all. You know that some of us gave some and some gave all. Memorial Day was set aside so we don't forget about the young men and women have gone out there and fought and never came back -- and the ones that we still haven't even identified as lost throughout the world."

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