- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

PETERSBURG, Va. — With the firing of volleys and the playing of taps, three unknown Union soldiers were laid to rest yesterday at Poplar Grove National Cemetery almost 139 years after they were killed during the Civil War.

The small American flags placed next to every grave at the cemetery fluttered in the wind. More than 4,000 unknown soldiers are buried here.

“As you look across the cemetery this morning, it has a strange beauty,” U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Chesapeake Republican, told the group of people who attended the Memorial Day ceremony. “We owe a great debt to those who rest here.”

The remains of the three soldiers were found on the Reams Station and Peeble’s Farm battlefields a few miles from the cemetery, which was created in the late 1860s as a resting place for more than 6,700 Union soldiers killed during the siege of Petersburg.

The burial corps worked for three years until 1869. In that time they reinterred 6,718 remains, and 2,139 bodies were positively identified.

Two of the soldiers were discovered together at Peeble’s Farm, so they were laid to rest in the same casket, said Maj. Gen. Terry E. Juskowiak, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee.

A U.S. belt buckle and U.S. coat buttons were also discovered with the soldiers, which were turned over to the National Park Service in the early 1990s, said Tracy Chernault, park service spokesman. Anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution examined the remains and determined that they were Union soldiers.

“We need not know who they were. … We only know that they were soldiers,” Gen. Juskowiak said during the ceremony. “America has always and will always honor and respect its dead. We embrace equally the hero and the common soldier.”

At the ceremony, the 3rd United States Infantry, known as the “Old Guard,” from Fort Myer provided military honors. The unit also guards the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery.

The caskets, draped with American flags, rested on a bandstand until members of the infantry carried them away to the grave sites. There, three volleys were fired over the graves, and taps was played before the honor guard folded the flags.

“Memorial Day is America’s unique opportunity to honor its fallen heroes,” said Mr. Forbes, encouraging those in attendance to thank military members and veterans for their service.

“The war on terrorism is being fought by our sons and daughters. … Embrace them with the love of a grateful nation.”

Gen. Juskowiak said the nation goes to great lengths to honor fallen soldiers and military veterans.

“There is strength to be gained in remembering, and there is surely a debt to be paid.”

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