Marines help restore forgotten cemetery

10 Mar 2016 | Lance Cpl. Sean Berry Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

Through the wooded forest of the Kennedy Home for children in Kinston, Marines cleared out trees and dense undergrowth, hoping they were about to uncover a piece of history.

On March 2, after three full hours in the North Carolina sun, they continued to cut, dig, chainsaw and clear a pathway deep into the woods where vines cut at their skin and dead vegetation surrounded them at every turn.

Their dedication would pay off when the first headstone was found. Excitement overcame the Marines when they located parts of the 160 year old cemetery that until now, had only been a rumor at the facility.

"About three years ago we found out there might have been another cemetery on the property," said Brian Baltzell, director at the Kennedy Home. "The ceremony was referred to as the old slave cemetery, where slaves and servants who died during the civil war time frame, were buried."

Fifteen Marines and sailors from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune helped with the effort, working together to help partially restore the area.

"We were not only able to help them locate the cemetery, but also clean the area and bring it back and help them get it to a place where it needs to be for the souls buried there," said Lt. Cmdr Erskine Alvis, chaplain with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations – East, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

Two to three times a year, Marines from Camp Lejeune provide help to the Kennedy Home for Children, often spending time talking to them and providing help in any way they can.

"The Marines have blessed us in the past, but this was especially meaningful for us," said Baltzell. "This was all about real people and their lives; to be able to go back, reestablish it and hopefully we get to learn a little bit about their history too."

The Kennedy Home plans to open it up to the public like a traditional cemetery, allowing for visitors to come and honor this newly discovered piece of history.

"The Marines were very motivated and happy to be able to locate and clean the area; being able to give back in a sense of respect for those buried here," said Alvis. "There is a value in honoring those who have come before us and giving back to the communities in which we live in, that made it all worth the while."