By Michael d’Oliveira | email@example.com
Pompano Beach – South Florida’s post-war boom and its popularity among retirees have made World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans’ graves ubiquitous among cemeteries here.
But visitors to Pompano Beach Cemetery may be surprised to find the graves of veterans who fought in wars that predated non-Native American settlement of the area, including the Civil War [both Union and Confederate], Spanish American War and the American Indian Wars of the late 1800s.
There are also a few graves belonging to veterans who fought in World War I, a conflict that started just six years after Pompano Beach was incorporated in 1908.
“It’s fascinating. You just wonder what was here . . . what their lives were like. Almost every war is represented here,” said Pamela Smith-Gondek, past honorary regent of the Lighthouse Point Chapter of the National Daughters of the American Revolution [DAR].
Smith-Gondek spoke to The New Pelican last year when DAR cleaned the headstones and markers belonging to veteran graves at Pompano Beach Cemetery.
They were cleaning in preparation for Wreaths Across America, an event where wreaths are placed on veteran graves in honor of their service and sacrifice.
DAR members say they do it every year out of respect, including the graves of Confederate veterans.
“I’m a Yankee through and through. I still think they need to be respected. It’s all history.
It’s our history,” said Eileen Brauer, regent of the Lighthouse Point DAR. “It’s not up to me to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.”
There are several Confederate and Union graves in the cemetery.
Lewis R. Smoak may be the most notable Civil War veteran buried here.
According to an April 17, 1960 article by the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel, Smoak, who served in the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, was a Pompano Beach pioneer and one of its earliest farmers. He was also a founding member of First Baptist Church. Born in Orangeburg, South Carolina in 1848, Smoak died in 1936.
But the DAR isn’t alone in showing deference to Confederate graves at the cemetery.
Every April on Confederate Memorial Day, which is on the State of Florida’s official list of legal holidays and special observances [Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ birthday is also on the state list], members of the William Henry Harris Camp 1395 Sons of Confederate Veterans plant Confederate flags at Confederate graves throughout South Florida.
Pompano Beach resident Ken Stolar’s great grandfather, Daniel B. Richardson, was a Confederate soldier from South Carolina.
A former member of William Henry Harris Camp 1395, Stolar views Confederate Memorial Day as a way to honor his great grandfather. “I like to study the Civil War . . . I want to learn from it. We’ve got to remember it was a different time.”
David Nash, commander of William Henry Harris Camp 1395, said the motivation behind placing the flags is purely one of reverence for history and heritage.
“We’re everyday people. Many of us have got ancestors from that time period who fought for the South. Many of us have loved ones who fought for both sides. It’s not white supremacy or racist intent with any of it. It’s just the memory of those guys and what they did,” said Nash, who had ancestors on both sides and is also a member of a Sons of Union Veterans group as well as Sons of the American Revolution.
“I’m a history person,” added Nash, who has a certificate of Civil War Studies from American Public University and is close to getting his master’s in American history from the same institution.
He compared the debate about the Civil War to contemporary discussions where unpopular wars are framed in a way that is careful not to criticize those who fought, only the wars they fought in and the politicians who lead the way. Said Nash, “They stood up for a cause and, whether you like what they did, it was a different time. That’s what they felt was right.”