Thousands of simple, white headstones line neat rows at Danville National Cemetery, bearing witness to the sacrifices made by veterans of wars harking back more than 150 years.
Some headstones are marked with names, dates of service and the branch of military in which those buried served. Others are much simpler, especially those from Civil War times when Union soldiers died in Danville prisons. Many of those just have a name, some include the state they were from. Others simply say, “Unknown U.S. Soldier.”
On Sunday, about 200 people, many veterans themselves, gathered at the cemetery for the annual Memorial Day service presented by local veterans groups.
Jeff Crews, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 647, led the ceremony, which started with the posting of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, sung by Chase Snead, of Tunstall High School.
Keynote speaker Delegate Les Adams, R-Chatham, told the crowd his family history in this region goes back almost 400 years and includes people who served in the Revolutionary War through more recent wars.
“We are all here to honor the fallen, our ancestors, those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the republic,” Adams said.
After the ceremony, Adams praised the veterans groups who organized the event.
“On Memorial Day, it is important to honor fallen American heroes and committing ourselves to preserving the country they left us,” he said.
Auxiliaries presented wreaths for each branch of the military and the ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute from, “Taps” and Tim Carpenter playing “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes as he led the color guard off the hill where the American flag always flies at the cemetery.
Fred Shanks Jr. slowly walked out of the ceremony as his son, Danville City Councilman Fred Shanks III, helped carry chairs back to the entrance.
Shanks Jr. joined the Air Force in World War II and trained to be a bomber pilot. The war ended before he was called to participate.
He returned to Danville and joined the Army National Guard, one of two pilots in the unit. He was called to serve in the Korean War as a spotter, flying a small plane and looking for enemy artillery fire.
“This has been a wonderful day,” Shanks Jr. said. “It’s always nice being here.”
Bettie Woods, a senior member of the American Legion Post 29 Auxiliary, agreed.
“This is really nice,” Woods said.
With her was Brenda Walton, the president of the auxiliary.
“She’s been a member for a long time,” Walton said, as both women chuckled while they tried to remember for exactly how long. “We can always count on her.”