25 April 2011

Is This An Appropriate Way To Honor A Veteran?

My Ancestor's
Final Resting Place
I've posted before about the ongoing battle over Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. (See here and here) Oakwood has more (17,000) combat-related Confederate graves than any cemetery in the United States. But the current  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs administration doesn't want to honor these veterans with any proper V.A. issued headstones. I think they're playing politics. What an absolute disgrace.

As Lee Hart of the SCV noted in a recent Richmond Times piece about the ongoing battle:

"This is total, total discrimination," said F. Lee Hart III of Suffolk, chairman of the SCV Oakwood Restoration Committee. "I don't think they want to see an Arlington of Richmond, with all of the positive media and tourism that this cemetery will draw, this being the largest combat casualty Confederate cemetery."

Virginia Senator James Webb to the rescue. As the Richmond Times Dispatch piece notes, James Webb recently reminded the V.A. that "Confederate and Union soldiers have the same legal status."

Steve Muro, acting undersecretary for (V.A.) memorial affairs, said that "the existing markers are appropriate." Really Mr. Muro? A stone with no name, no birth date, no death date, no unit noted and which is shared with two other men is "appropriate" in marking the burial place of a deceased soldier who died as a result of combat? I find that statement to be either a.) extremely insensitive, b.) a display of gross ignorance, c.) and most likely, a political calculation. This man, whose salary I help to pay, should be made to apologize or fired. Here's some of what I wrote a couple of years ago about my great-great grandfather who happens to be buried at Oakwood:

Oakwood Cemetery ~ 1865
Number 91 on a weathered, lonely, blank headstone; a shared grave with two other men. Not much of a tribute for someone who was a POW and died for his country. For 140 years my family knew nothing of what happened to my great-great grandfather, John Meredith Crutchfield. We did know that Grandpa Crutchfield left the family farm, walked to Gauley Bridge, Virginia (West VA today) and enlisted with the 60th Virginia Infantry, Company F at the beginning of the war. He owned no slaves. He simply wanted to defend his home. He was wounded at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley (just a few minutes from my home here in Augusta County), taken prisoner by the Federals and transported to the infamous POW Camp Morton in Indiana where prisoners received cruel treatment at the hands of Union soldiers.

Transferred to Chimborazo Hospital in March of 1865 in a prisoner exchange, my grandfather died there on March 28. There, the story ended – or so the family thought. John Crutchfield’s widow died years later not knowing what had become of him. Had he deserted? Had he run off with another woman? Had he been killed in battle? No one knew until the 1950’s when my great aunt discovered the information about the Battle of Piedmont and Chimborazo. But the family still did not know what became of his body. Where was he buried or was he buried? Then I wrote this piece for the Washington Times’ Civil War column detailing some of my grandfather’s story. (This story refers to a "James" Crutchfield. That was my mistake, John is the correct name. John had a son named James that was born in 1861.) The story was read by a gentleman in Richmond; a fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans member. This man was working on the restoration of Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. This cemetery, where many Confederate veterans are buried, had fallen into shameful neglect in recent years. I was contacted by this gentleman and he told me that he knew for a fact that John Meredith Crutchfield was buried at Oakwood – family mystery solved! The photograph of Oakwood shown here was taken in April of 1865, just after my grandfather would have been buried. Almost exactly 140 years after the fact, John Meredith Crutchfield’s family now knows where his grave is. Grandpa Crutchfield has never before had someone from his family visit his grave, weep over his death, honor his sacrifice, or place flowers upon his final resting place. That is about to change. I love history. And I love the God of history who providentially shows us what we need to know to honor our fathers.

Senator Webb is to be commended for his efforts to intervene. May the God of History bless his efforts. If you agree that these men deserve better, I urge you to contact the V.A., Senator Webb's office, or your own Congressmen and Senators. You may read the complete RTD piece here.


Michael Aubrecht said...

This continues to be a disgrace. The fact that there are so many volunteers already offering to do the "heavy-lifting" on this project makes the govt's lack of attention to it even more disheartening.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

When Wilder was Mayor of Richmond, he basically ignored the will of the legislature. Now, the VA continues to play politics. This should not be political. Whether these were Union or Confederate graves, they deserve proper recognition. Webb has ancestors on both sides.

Michael Aubrecht said...

True. When you look at all of the efforts these people (including you) have put into this cemetery’s plight it is not just a blatant disregard for the vets buried there, it's a blatant disregard for the citizens of Richmond and abroad. More proof that the Govt is anything, but FOR the people. And reinforces the fact that no matter who is in power, neither side of the political spectrum is worth the vote.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Michael - I don't want to get off topic here, but men on both sides (and in all our wars), fought and died for our rights. Voting is one of those rights, though I would agree with you that our choices are often quite pathetic.

Brock Townsend said...

I certainly agree that they should be replaced, but when I ordered some for my ancestors, the form did state that they would be provided only if there were not existing ones, so unless the rules have been changed they seem to have a legal out. Now, tombstones could be stolen by a heartless Yankee.......... Posted.

13thBama said...

It seems to be an issue larger than just the Civil War. I did some research into Daniel Morgan and was shocked how poorly he is treated here in Winchester. A South Carolina community even tried to have him moved there because Virginia seemed to not care about him very much. I can point out many of the buildings in the area that are historic because of him, but there are few markers that do so.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hey Brock. The argument being made is that those existing markers were only to be temporary. Webb makes the point that these do not meet the definition of "existing."

13B - I'm not sure I follow.

13thBama said...

Sorry, was a tangent that I thought was related. Maybe not.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

13B - no problem. Probably me. I'm fighting a stomach virus and am not quite up to par. ;o)

13thBama said...

Sorry to hear that, get well soon!

Thomas Gann said...

I'm a firm believer that politics should end at the church house doors and at the graveyards gate.Their is no place for such foolishness by VA here.Honor these men and give them the respect they deserve.