Volunteers are ensuring no veterans' grave goes unmarked

Julia LeDoux
July 24, 2020 - 10:56 am

People across the country are on a mission to ensure that veterans buried in unmarked graves receive headstones or markers from the VA’s National Cemetery Administration.

Among them is Toni Craig, a special education world history teacher from Mechanicsville, Va. She was spurred to take action when she discovered that her cousin, Marine Pfc. Harry Pemberton Martin, had laid in an unmarked grave for more than 50 years. 

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According to a VA blog post, Martin was a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. Craig began researching her cousin’s military service at the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs in Danville, where she was able to obtain all the necessary documentation to receive a flat marker for Martin’s grave.

“Harry is a hero to my family because he did not have to go to Vietnam. He served his time in the Navy, but decided to join the Marines after,” Craig said. “He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but to us, his heart was and still is golden.”

Researchers only need proper documentation to prove a veteran’s service in order to obtain a headstone or marker through NCA. Anyone can request a burial headstone or marker if the veteran’s service ended prior to April 6, 1917. Veterans who died prior to Nov. 1, 1990, and whose graves are marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive a second headstone or marker from NCA. However, a medallion is available to all decedents in this category who served on or after April 6, 1917. The medallion can be affixed to the existing headstone to show the veteran’s branch of service.

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Retired Ohio high school teacher Paul LaRue has gotten his students involved in securing and installing more than 70 headstones in five cemeteries since 2002, according to the blog post. More than half of the headstones were for African American Civil War veterans.

Department of Veterans Affairs

“This unique preservation project began in our local city cemetery after a student asked, ‘Don’t these men deserve better?’” LaRue said.

In 2019, NCA furnished 161,939 headstones and markers, and 13,168 medallions, to veterans interred in private cemeteries worldwide. For more information about the NCA headstone, marker and medallion program, visit here

Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.

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