Column: VA refuses headstone for honored soldier
By Rodney Cress
Special to the Post
It was the cold, dark night of Oct. 27, 1864, when Lt. William B Cushing, commander of the Union Picket Boat No. 1, and 13 officers and men volunteered to attack the Confederate ship CSS Albemarle that was destroying most of the Union ships off the coast of North Carolina.
Their operation was a success, but at a high cost. Two sailors were killed, two escaped and the other 10 were captured.
This act of bravery by the crew was instrumental in the Union defeating the Confederacy. Seven crew members subsequently received the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, due to their bravery that night.
Lorenzo Deming, a 20-year-old from New Britain, Conn., was one of the soldiers captured in the attack and was later transferred to Salisbury to one of the 11 prison camps established by the Confederates. Deming died in captivity at the age of 21 from pneumonia, his remains thrown in one of the 18 trenches alongside the bodies with 11,700 other Union prisoners that died from disease and starvation at the camp. For 143 years, his grave has been unmarked.
I discovered that Deming was buried in Salisbury’s National Cemetery while reading a book on the Civil War. I started research to verify that Deming’s remains were, in fact, interred in Salisbury.
Six months and countless hours of research later, I was convinced of my facts and petitioned the V.A. National Cemetery to place a headstone honoring Deming at the facility. I also contacted the Medal of Honor Society. According to facts the society has on hand, Deming is buried in Salisbury in the mass grave. I have lots of documents pulled from history archives that indicate I am correct.
I also contacted U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and ranking member of the Senate Veteran Affairs. Mindi Walker, Burr’s staff member on Veterans Affairs, delivered my documents to the under secretary of memorial affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs for review.
On Feb. 17, I received a response from the VA saying that it would not allow a headstone at the grave site of Lorenzo Deming because in 1992 there was a “memorial” headstone placed at a private family cemetery in New Britain, Conn. An internal VA regulation allows only one headstone to be placed per service member.
I had notified the VA that I would pay for an additional headstone or bronze plaque for Deming because I believe a hero deserves a headstone where the body lies. Only 3,467 Medals of Honor have been awarded in the history of the United States out of the millions of soldiers who fought to defend this country since 1861. I believe every one of them deserves to be recognized.
I find it unacceptable that the VA does not seem to care about this Medal of Honor recipient after he made the ultimate sacrifice. Is this current VA administration, which pledged to honor our military and veterans, just shooting off words that have no meaning? All men and women who have served and are now serving need to know that their service will be recognized and they will not be forgotten, no matter how long.
In lieu of placing a marker at the cemetery to signify that a Medal of Honor recipient is interred there, a subsequent letter from the VA said I could arrange for the Sons of the Union Veterans to provide this hero a proper burial ceremony.
Additionally, the VA has updated the Salisbury National Cemetery Web site to reflect the probability that Lorenzo Deming is indeed buried in one of the cemetery’s 18 trenches.
While I appreciative the very small steps the VA has made to honor Deming, I still feel it is only acceptable for the VA to place some type of marker recognizing this American hero for his service. For the VA to choose not mark the grave of a Medal of Honor recipient is a slap in the face for decency and respect to soldiers who achieved extraordinary feats of service.
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Rodney Cress is a Vietnam veteran who lives in Rowan County.
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