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Civil War Vets: From Brave to Grave

History-minded reenactors fervently salute 26 buried at two cemeteries. Plots that were neglected suddenly aren't.

November 17, 2002|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

The tombstone dulled to a mottled yellow and the grass around it unmarked by flag or flower, it was plain that Sgt. John Griley's grave hadn't been fussed over in a while.

But if the Civil War veteran could have seen what happened above his Huntington Beach burial plot Saturday morning, he likely would have been reassured that he has not been forgotten.

A flag, two bunches of daisies and a promise to restore his tombstone's appearance were showered on his final resting place, along with those of 25 others, by Civil War reenactors who paid their respects to veterans of the war between the states at two cemeteries in Orange County.

This year, about a dozen compatriots joined Ray "Skip" Hutton, 61, of Huntington Beach for the first time since he started posting flags at Civil War veterans' graves five years ago.

"This takes what we do as reenactors all the way through," said retired Army Sgt. Major David Crichton, 47, of Fort Irwin. "By coming here we're honoring their whole lives, not just what they did in battle."

Sweltering in their wool uniforms, the reenactors split up to stand by individual graves during the three-minute color guard ceremonies at Good Shepherd Cemetery in Huntington Beach and Westminster Memorial Park.

Calling out to stake his claim to "the Illinois dude," Crichton bounded toward Griley's grave because his great-grandfather also fought in an Illinois company.

Reenactor Neil Morrison's shouted commands echoed through the muggy air to the surrounding strip malls. In response, the costumed soldiers touched their swords to the headstones and knelt graveside.

"With that husky voice, I know those boys heard us," Hutton said as he approached Griley's grave.

Addressing the stone, he said, "John, my boy, you maybe wouldn't want this much bother taken over you, but we will anyway. You deserve it."

After the ceremony, Huntington Beach resident Mary Martin and two other women in Civil War-era blouses and hoop skirts fanned out to place two flowers with crisscrossed stems on each grave. The fringe of Martin's soft pink shawl trailed on the grass as she stooped over the stones.

"I think of the hardships of these people and what they endured during those horrendous battles," she said. "I feel like this is the least we can do for people who survived those times and then came out to start settling Orange County."

Some people whose relatives had been left out of Civil War veteran records joined the reenactors to ask if those graves could be included in the tribute.

Cypress resident Shirley Roberts said her great-grandfather, Henry Posther, had served in Indiana before moving to Southern California and being buried in the Westminster cemetery.

Hutton promised Roberts he would hold a ceremony for the man Monday after verifying his service.

"It might not mean much to him at this point," Roberts said, "but I would like to see him remembered."

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