Members of the Antioch Baptist Church youth gathered Saturday afternoon for a ceremony to honor veterans buried at the church’s cemetery.
“I appreciate these young people that will take the time today to honor these that have passed on, those that served their country,” said church member Bill Turner, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1970-1974.
Turner addressed the group about what it means to be a veteran.
“Most served their country during a time of need then went about building a life and family,” he said of the nearly 40 servicemen and women buried in the acreage around him.
Randy Pope, the church’s youth pastor and organizer of the first ceremony of its kind there, read the names of each of the veterans, including at least six whose service dates back to World War I, many from World War II and a smattering from Korea, Vietnam and other eras.
Pope said he was surprised to see how many veterans were buried in the roughly one-acre parcel that holds what he estimates are about 200 graves and felt that the church should honor those who gave for their country. “It’s never been done here,” he said. “Why not? We need it.”
Pope said he thought it best to involve the youth because “they are at the age now that they understand what veterans are and what they’ve done for our country,” he said.
Brandon Thompson, a 14-year-old Weaver High School student, said he wanted to participate in the ceremony to “show respect for people that fought for our freedom.”
John Gorman, a World War II veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, did just that. He participated in the invasion of Normandy.
“I beat at Mr. Hitler for a few years,” Gorman said. “I didn’t enjoy it too much, but I was there.”
At Saturday’s ceremony, Gorman said he grew up with some of his fellow veterans buried at Antioch Gardens and said it’s important to honor them.
Turner said unlike Pope, he wasn’t surprised to find the number of veterans buried at the cemetery. “In my generation, we were raised by veterans,” he said. They were all veterans because of the war they had just come out of.”
David Schneider, executive director of the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, said that cemeteries like Antioch’s are not unusual. “Almost all cemeteries have veterans’ graves,” he said. And these burial places are good repositories of history.
“You look at cemetery markers. They have lots of good historical information because of the information on the grave markers,” he said. “If you’re smart you can study patterns of history. You can find maybe there was a cholera epidemic…You can look at relative wealth of people by the markers they put up.”
And for some of the students who helped honor the veterans Saturday, the ceremony had a personal connection.
Zac and Jessica Pope, Randy Pope’s children, placed flags on the graves of their great-grandfather and great-uncle, respectively.
For Zac, 10, he felt a connection to history. “I never met one of them, but it’s just neat that you have somebody who served that you’re kin to,” he said of his grandfather, Clay Cabiness, a World War II veteran.
Jessica planted a flag at her great-uncle Jackie Cabiness’ grave. “It was really meaningful to put it on my great-uncle’s grave and tell him that I love him,” she said.
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.