Families pay tribute at Kentucky VA cemetery to service of loved ones

bestep@herald-leader.comMay 28, 2012 

NANCY — Steve and Scott Hammond came to honor their father, Terry R. Hammond, who served in the Vietnam War era, and grandfather Bartie Green Hammond, who served on Okinawa in World War II, as well as other family members buried at Mill Springs National Cemetery.

Brenda Patterson and other family members visited the grave of her husband, David O'Neil Patterson, who died last year. He did wartime service in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

Jeanette Lewis came to remember her late husband, Banca W. Lewis, who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the onset of WW II and spent the rest of the war on ships in the South Pacific.

Lewis voiced the sentiment of many in the crowd of several hundred who attended Monday's Memorial Day observance at the historic cemetery in western Pulaski County.

"They can never do enough to honor these fellas that are here in this cemetery ... and all over the world, really," said Lewis, 71, of Somerset.

Americans enjoy freedom unmatched in the world because of the sacrifices of service men and women throughout the nation's history, said David Davis, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration office that covers Kentucky.

America is a "land of many heroes," and Kentucky certainly has its share, Davis said.

"Remembering the sacrifices and what they have meant to the nation is the duty of the living," said Davis, the featured speaker for the observance.

Those sacrifices allowed the nation to flourish and allow us to lead the lives we do, Davis said.

"America has been blessed as no other nation in the history of the world," he said.

During the ceremony, two veterans placed a wreath at the grave of Sgt. Brent Woods, who was born a slave in Pulaski County in 1855 but later joined the cavalry and was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in a battle with Apaches in 1881.

One of the men who helped place the wreath, World War II veteran Winifer W. Freeman, said he was thinking of those he served with who didn't make it back.

Freeman said he was a bombardier on Navy planes during the war.

Only eight men from his original squadron of 155 were left at the end of the war, Freeman said.

"I thought about that numerous times today," he said.

After the wreath-laying, seven veterans from American Legion Post 38 fired a 21-gun salute, and another played taps on the bugle, the haunting notes settling over the crowd on the quiet hill and its neat rows of white headstones.

"I think it was great," Brenda Patterson said of the service.

Boy Scout Troop 79 had placed small flags at each of the graves, said David Merrick, who works at Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Jessamine County.

That facility helps administer Mill Springs.

The first burials in the cemetery were Union soldiers killed in the January 1862 Battle of Mill Springs, near the present-day town of Nancy.

The battle was the first significant Union victory in the Civil War, playing a key role in destroying Confederate defenses in Kentucky and helping the North retain control of the state, according to the National Park Service.

There are now about 3,400 people buried in the cemetery, including veterans of every American conflict since the Civil War, Merrick said.

"There's a lot of history in this cemetery," he said.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655.Twitter: @billestep1.

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