They came from all over the world. They fought pirates, storms, wars, and ship-borne diseases.
Now they rest in the cemetery at America's first naval hospital, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, VA. Occupying less than two acres on the hospital complex, this cemetery represents a unique chapter in the history of seafaring.
According to retired Navy CAPT Ted H. Conaway Jr., the hospital's historian and unofficial caretaker, the cemetery was established in observance of a British custom that a host whose guest died should provide a final resting place.
Among those resting in the cemetery are U.S. sailors who died in every conflict between the 1830s and World War II, including six winners of the Navy Medal of Honor. Victims of diseases, such as yellow fever and beriberi, fill many of the 881 graves.
The first man buried in the cemetery was George Butler, a young seaman who died in a fall from the rigging of the USS CONSTITUTION, known as "Old Ironsides," as it sailed home into Virginia's Norfolk harbor on Aug. 12, 1838.
Also buried in the cemetery are three Russian sailors that died from beriberi, a disease caused by a vitamin deficiency; three Spaniards taken prisoner during the Spanish-American War; and three German sailors who died after their ship sailed into the Chesapeake Bay to escape a British warship shortly before America entered World War I.
Although many of the cemetery's burial records are missing, many of the dead surely perished fighting pirates, which was one of the young U.S. Navy's main responsibilities, according to Conaway.
GPS Coordinates: 36.84594, -76.30895
- Added: 25 Sep 2003
- Find A Grave Cemetery: #1970654
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