Portsmouth, Virginia: Memorial Day, 2020

Sgt. George Williams, May 25, 2020. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

We visited six cemeteries this morning, mostly to plant flags at our veteran ancestors’ graves. The best part of the day was being able to support previous volunteer efforts and plant flags at the graves of some veterans who’d been missed, due to their graves being marked by damaged or non military-issue headstones.

At Grove Baptist Church, Churchland, for example, is the grave of Pvt. George Elliott, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry. Pvt. Elliott’s military service is inscribed at the base of the stone, which is usually covered up.

Pvt. George Elliott, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry. Photo: May 25, 2020, Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

In the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex (Mt. Calvary, Mt. Olive, Fishers Hill, potters field, est. 1879) rests Roosevelt Ricks, USN, whose name is missing at the top of the marker, in Mount Olive Cemetery. Some of the other “hidden” veterans are Pvt. Cornelius Riddick, 2nd U. S.Colored Cavalry (Mt. Calvary), and Alexander Gordon, a Civil War Navy veteran (Mt. Olive).

Grave of Roosevelt Ricks, USN. His name, at the top of the military issue stone, has been scratched off. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 25, 2020. All rights reserved.
Cornelius Riddick Orton Copyright 2020
Pvt. Cornelius Riddick, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 25, 2020. All rights reserved.
Alexander Gordon, USN. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 25, 2020. All rights reserved.

A minor miracle occurred in Fishers Hill Cemetery. Not sure how we did it, but we were able to raise the gravestone of Aloy Robichaw, USN, who rests next to my great-great-grandfather, Arthur Orton, USN. I was shocked to see Robichaw’s grave face down in the mud. When did that happen? Arthur Orton’s grave is damaged, and we’re ordering a new headstone for him. But Robichaw’s was never damaged. I mentioned it to my father, who was already heading over with one flag for Arthur. As soon as he saw Mr. Robichaw’s stone, he went back to the car without a word, and emerged with a large shovel and thick towel. I could see he was determined to right the headstone. Carefully covering the shovel with the towel, we managed to right the stone without a scratch. I’m still not sure how we did it, because that headstone was HEAVY, as in tree trunk heavy. Yay! We weren’t able to clean it as much as I would’ve liked, but at least it’s upright again. Welcome back, Mr. Robichaw!

(l-r) Arthur Orton, USN (whose new headstone is on the way), and Aloy Robichaw, USN. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 25, 2020. All rights reserved.

After leaving the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, we went over to Lincoln Memorial, another ancestral cemetery. After tending to our own family’s graves, we planted flags around the Civil War monument, and at the graves of several U. S. Colored Troops buried around the monument.

Lincoln Memorial Civil War monument, May 25, 2020. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 25, 2020. All rights reserved.

I didn’t have a clean shot, as there were family groups, individual descendants, friends, and former neighbors of the dearly departed everywhere, constantly moving in and out of the frame. Cars lined up along the driveways, which, of course, were muddy and uneven. But I loved it. So wonderful to see so many families out there today, with weed wackers/trimmers, flowers, flags, shovels, brooms, and anything else needed to clean graves. They had to navigate narrow, muddy, flooded drives, and cross sodden ground with dozens of pools of standing water to reach their ancestors. Put up with recalcitrant Canada Geese, who squawked loudly in protest and slowly waddled away whenever a car or family group came near, as if we were the interlopers, and we were annoying them. But the families cleaned and decorated the graves despite all these obstacles, carrying on the long-standing tradition of honoring their ancestors no matter what the deterrent. Family, descendants, community. The legacy of Decoration Day continues!

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