Committee eyes issues at Veterans Cemetery

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 2/19/19

Issues concerning the Bradley County Veterans Cemetery at Fort Hill Cemetery are being addressed by a new committee appointed through the Bradley County Commission.

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Committee eyes issues at Veterans Cemetery

Posted

Issues concerning the Bradley County Veterans Cemetery at Fort Hill Cemetery are being addressed by a new committee appointed through the Bradley County Commission.

The Ad Hoc Committee for Veterans Cemetery at Fort Hill Cemetery met recently for the first time. Committee members are Commissioners Milan Blake, Thomas Crye and Howard Thompson, Kim Dees, Cid Heidel and John Thomason.

Bradley County Veterans Service Officer Brian Huesterberg was elected chairman of the committee. He was nominated by Heidel, with the motion seconded by Blake. The vote to elect was unanimous.

Huesterberg said among the biggest issues are headstone markers and eligibility to be interred in the veterans cemetery. He said he would like to see eligibility requirements “to mirror” the national cemetery regulations. In addition, Huesterberg said he wants to work with local funeral homes to establish a procedure to determine eligibility for interment and to make sure all future interments meet those requirements. Because such a procedure hasn’t been in place, it’s “left some plots that are unmarked,” Huesterberg said.

In addition, there are questions on some of the graves — not as to whether the person served in the military, including Reserves and National Guard, but whether they met the time and service requirements to be eligible for interment there.

Heidel referred to a March 2018 status report and recommendations from the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council, which was prepared by Heidel, Thomason and Dees. Heidel said the report can be used “as a tool” for the Veterans Service Office to use in future planning.

“Here’s our product ... you can use it however you see fit,” Heidel said.

“It covers everything we’re concerned about up there,” Thomason added.

According to the report, in October 1990 the Bradley County Commission designated a portion of its property in the Fort Hill Cemetery “for the interment of veterans who were born or lived in Bradley and their lawful surviving spouse. The Commission also established seven specific policies for the cemetery. The Commission further provided that the Bradley County Veterans Services Office could designate, establish, and enforce rules and regulations governing the use, operation and maintenance of the cemetery.”

At the time the report was submitted, there were 259 individuals interred in the cemetery. “Of this number, 230 are veterans, 10 of which still have temporary markers and no headstone. The veteran’s status of one of these individuals has yet to be completely verified,” the report stated.

In addition, at the time the report was submitted, there were 29 spouses interred there: 10 with footstones, nine with their names added to the spouse’s headstones, and 10 interred without the spouse’s initial burial.

Thomason said there are now 260 individuals interred at the Bradley County Veterans Cemetery, with room for about 200 more.

“The aging is going to continue to increase” especially among Vietnam Era veterans, Thomason said.

Thomason said educating funeral homes on veterans cemetery procedure is important to prevent future graves being left unmarked. He added some local organizations have told him they plan to contribute financially to pay for markers for currently unmarked graves.

Commissioner Thomas Crye asked how much the grave markers cost. Thomason said each costs about $300, depending on the number of letters used on the marker. He added four graves are currently unmarked, and that a local organization offered to pay $350 for one of them.

“If you’ve got one covered, I’ll cover the other three,” said Crye, himself a U.S. Army veteran, before writing a check.

Huesterberg said the committee can focus now on contacting funeral homes to review the correct process for future interments, as well as looking at plans for future maintenance of the cemetery, which is now being done by volunteers.

Thomason said he is thankful for those volunteers who have been so devoted to their work there. He added “Bradley County Road Department has stepped up” on several projects, like clearing fallen trees, and Bradley County Parks and Recreation has also brought equipment and personnel to help with issues.

Commission Chairman Johnny Mull said the next step is to get a copy of the report to all county commissioners for their review.

The Ad Hoc Committee for Veterans Cemetery at Fort Hill Cemetery will meet again at 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, in the Louie Alford Commission Conference Room at the Bradley County Courthouse. At that time, the committee will review the report and have the opportunity to ask additional questions, and vote on a draft letter to be sent to funeral homes.

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