Help sought in honoring county’s vets

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On Friday morning, approximately 40 representatives fromBrookhaven’s chapters of the American Legion, Veterans of ForeignWars and Daughters of the American Revolution gathered at Rose HillCemetery and surrounding burial grounds to place American flags onthe graves of 541 deceased Lincoln County veterans.

However, from the Civil War almost 150 years ago to the Iraq Wartoday, the county has buried far more than 541 veterans. They arenot all well-known, they are not all marked – even the 541veterans’ graves that received flags Friday were identified only bytheir military markers.

For Betsy Nott, a life member of the VFW, 541 is not enough.

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“I know full well that there’s veterans all over this county,”she said. “A lot of our vets don’t have military markers, andthey’re buried all over, in little church cemeteries throughout thecounty. They deserve to be recognized each and every MemorialDay.”

Nott is asking for the help of county churches of alldenominations identifying veterans resting in their cemeteries.

She believes county churches need to do more in making suretheir veterans are honored fully on Memorial Day. She is urgingeach church’s cemetery committee to interview the families of theirinterred to determine exactly how many veterans lie in theirgraveyards.

Even though honoring veterans’ graves for Memorial Day isprimarily the responsibility of a veteran’s family – and not thechurch – Nott said the efforts of the county’s many churches arecrucial to ensuring proper Memorial Day honors since not all of thefamilies of deceased veterans are living, local or concerned.

“Some families know their vets, but some don’t,” Nott said. “Ithought about asking the churches which funerals got militaryhonors, but a lot of families don’t realize they’re entitled tothat. A lot of people just don’t consider that their veterans havea right to this recognition. But they do.”

Furthermore, Nott said, churches need to take an increased rolein recognizing veterans because, with families that are unaware,churches are the only group that can.

“The American Legion and the VFW have their hands full takingcare of the cemeteries in town,” Nott said. “The churchesthroughout the county have got to help. Some of the plots say,’Gone but not forgotten.’ But a lot of these veterans are basicallyforgotten.”

The Rev. Talmadge Smith, who recently retired as director of theLincoln County Baptist Association, said none of the county’sBaptist churches have a system in place to identify veterans incivilian graves.

“The family members would do that in county cemeteries, but ifthose family members have moved away there is no system set up tocover those veterans,” he said. “It would be a good plan for thechurches to undertake.”

American Legion member Bill Miller, who was one of the 40volunteers honoring veterans in city cemeteries Friday, saidorganizations such as the legion and VFW do not have the resourcesto canvas the entire county. He agreed with Nott that there areveterans unaccounted for.

“It surprised me,” Miller said of the 541 military graveshonored Friday. “I was thinking there was more out there than wefound.”

Miller said it comes down to matters of funding andassistance.

He said a package of 144 flags to place at veteran graves costs$100 – not a large amount. That is not a small amount for thelimited budget of the veterans’ groups, either.

“It takes money and people to put on something like this,”Miller said. “We have a little bit of money from our fundraisers,but we don’t have a big budget. And most of our members are oldfolks – we can’t do all the cemeteries. It’s a good project for thechurches.”

Nott said her passion for Memorial Day is a family value.

Her father, Jesse Carlos Case – who taught history at Loyd StarAttendance Center in the 1950s and served in World War II, Koreaand Vietnam – taught her a healthy respect for veterans. Herhusband, Ronald Nott – a member of the American Legion – is also aveteran.

Such veteran family ties are why Nott is so adamant aboutfinding each and every one of the county’s veterans’ graves.

The ties have also caused her to question the country’sdedication to the holiday, which began in 1866 to honor Unionsoldiers and was extended to both Union and Confederate dead in theSouth beginning in Columbus.

When Memorial Day occurs next year, Nott hopes county churches -and all the county’s citizens – will be ready to step into the voidnot covered by veterans’ groups and families. She suggestedchurches might consider taking up a special offering during themonth of May to cover the costs of purchasing supplies.

“Our vets need to be recognized every Memorial Day, not justbecause there are wars going on right now in Iraq and Afghanistan,”she said. “Memorial Day is not just a day to go out and get a caseof beer and a steak, not just a day to get on the road and gosomewhere. It’s specifically for honoring the vets that have diedin every war since the Civil War.”