Jim Dunbar, of La Plata, looks over the work done so far at a monument that will honor the Confederate soldiers who died at Point Lookout from 1863 to 1865 when it served as a Civil War prison camp. The group Dunbar represents will fly the Confederate flag there daily.
Members of the Point Lookout Prisoners of War Descendants Organization (PLPOW) are close to finishing the second stage of a private monument near Point Lookout State Park that honors, in their own way, the memory of Confederate prisoners who died there during The Civil War from 1863 to 1865.
The monument, they say, is the result of a conflict with the Department of Veterans Affairs over the current cemetery monument for Confederate prisoners, at which the Confederacy’s battle flag was taken down in 1998 and barred from being flown there again.
The Confederate standard has increasingly become a divisive relic, symbolizing racism and the oppression of slavery to many African Americans; but it’s also a reminder of heroism and the battle for states rights for Confederate sympathizers.
The PLPOW members bought their own land so they could fly the Confederate battle flag, along with the flags of the 13 rebel states that fought in the Civil War, in memorial of their fallen family members.
The private plot is just a few yards away from the federal cemetery marker.
The group also claims the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will not add the names of all the Confederate soldiers that the PLPOW claims actually died there.
Official government records claims that about 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers perished there, while the PLPOW claims a much higher number reaching to 14,000 by some estimates.
“Now we’ll have a place where we can say what we want to say and fly the [Confederate] flag 24/7,” said LaPlata resident and PLPOW member Jim Dunbar.
Dunbar is the head of the Confederate Memorial Park, Inc., the group that actually is overseeing the project.
“I’ve been working on it, just a little stone work and brick work,” Dunbar said about the slow moving project he hopes will pick up very soon. “This is just phase two and it’ll be a lot different in about a month.”
Currently a monument with unfinished walkway and surrounding flag poles stands at the corner of Route 5 as visitors turn to go to the park and after the second phase is finished the organization hopes to have a bronze statue of an anonymous Confederate soldier, starving, ragged and dressed in tatters sans shoes, standing at the pedestal-like monument.
The subject of Confederate soldiers at the prison camp has been controversial for the past several years, with members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an another group that celebrates Confederate heritage, engaging in federal court battles with the VA over federal government censorship of remarks from speeches about what they claimed were lackluster upkeep at the federal monument and the government’s refusal to let the Confederate flag fly there year-round.
Those attempts to reinstate the Confederate banner failed and the PLPOW decided it needed its own avenue of expression.
Patricia Buck, of Newport News, Va, and the founding member of the PLPOW, said that the VA continues to demand that she and others like her submit their speeches for review before speaking at any memorials at the federal cemetery.
The PLPOW still attends these federally sponsored ceremonies but members are looking forward to having their own place to speak and fly the Confederate battle flag as they wish.
“You don’t have freedom of speech there,” Buck said.
Martin Sendek, an attorney in the Office of General Counsel for the VA, said that speakers are not required to turn in their speeches, but they are required to tell VA officials basically what they will say.
He said any censorship of remarks was designed to retain the decorum one would expect in a cemetery and avoid personal viewpoints or partisan speech.
“There are plenty of venues for that but a cemetery is not one of them,” Sendek said. “We require the decorum of shrines to be maintained and we like to know what’s going on in our own backyard.”
When the group first dedicated their private park in 2005, about two years after they purchased it, one prominent county official said he caught a great deal of flak from the public for coming out and attending the ceremony.
County Commissioner Larry Jarboe (D-Golden Beach) said that soon after he made comments in support of PLPOW remembering their heritage messages came flooding in slamming him for being a racist.
“It was like an organized E-mail event directed at me,” Jarboe told The County Times. “That always bothered me that people would consider it [honoring the Confederacy] a racist endeavor.”
Jarboe had relatives who fought on the Union side of The Civil War with distinction but he agrees that those with confederate relatives who fought and died in that conflict have as much right to memorialize their history.
“I hope they can get it completed,” Jarboe said of the Confederate monument.
“ They’re trying to recognize people who suffered a great deal.“
They want to remember history and that’s important.”
…County Times, article & photo by Guy Leonard
Comment: Mr. Sendek said….”speakers are not required to turn in their speeches, but they are required to tell VA officials basically what they will say.” Does a person have FREEDOM of speech if they are required to have something they intend to say, verified by another person or group? Wonder what Rick Griffin’s response to this would be? Rick had to turn in his speech for "their approval." It didn't meet their approval and they denied him his rights to make that speech in the Pt. Lookout Cemetery. Sendek said …..Any remarks was designed to retain the decorum one would expect in a cemetery and avoid personal viewpoints or partisan speech. Is that not taking away FREEDOM of speech??