Monday will mark the first Memorial Day without an honoring ceremony at Mill Springs National Cemetery in its 152-year history.
Plans for the annual Memorial Day service at Mill Springs was cancelled back in March as the COVID-19 pandemic reached Kentucky's borders.
Back home in Somerset for the holiday weekend, Congressman Hal Rogers (KY-5) visited the historic site — first dedicated back in 1868 — on Friday morning to pay his respects and deliver a Memorial Day message for the people of Pulaski County.
"We all need to pay attention to the heroes that are buried amongst us," Congressman Rogers said. "This national cemetery is home to a lot of heroes.…We would not be here but for those who served our country, particularly at war but also at peace."
The congressman sought to bring attention to one hero in particular. Sergeant Brent Woods (1855-1906) served in the United States Army during the American Indian Wars out west, saving the lives of many during one 1881 engagement in New Mexico. He holds the distinction of being the first (and so far only) Pulaski Countian to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor as well as being one of two African-Americans from Kentucky to be so honored.
Congressman Rogers' recalled how Sgt. Woods was moved from an unmarked grave in downtown Somerset to Mill Springs in 1984, thanks to the efforts of one of his descendants. The woman, Loraine Smith, initially asked Rogers for help obtaining a monument.
"I said, 'We'll do more than that,'" Congressman Rogers recalled, noting that the Secretary of the Army at the time led the procession from Somerset to Nancy. "We got a monument but we wanted [Sgt. Woods] buried here, in this military cemetery, close to his home.…He was laid to rest with full military honors and rests here today in a place of honor as he deserves."
The cemetery was first used for casualties of the January 1862 Battle of Mill Springs and was recently designated — along with approximately 900 acres including the adjacent museum, Zollicoffer Park and other landmarks — as a national monument with the National Park Service. That transition from private to public ownership is continuing through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm proud of this cemetery and the way it's being kept," Congressman Rogers said. "The National Park Service will see to it that it stays this way."