Memorial Day weekend has arrived and while many will celebrate with cookouts and family get togethers, others will visit cemeteries and attend local observances to remember those who died serving their county.
It is sad that when many visit a cemetery, they will be greeted with headstones that have been knocked over and broken, long neglected, or cemeteries that are unkempt.
Along those lines, I received an email from an old friend this week telling me that last year during the COVID-19 pandemic the only safe haven the friend could find was in cemeteries. The friend said that before long they were cleaning grave markers and researching how to properly do that kind of work.
It touched me that the friend said they felt honored to do what their old hands and body could do to preserve someone’s past for others to see some day.
It angered me when the friend said they cried when they visited a Highland County cemetery and found several markers knocked over.
Such activity is not uncommon in Highland County, and I can only assume the same is true elsewhere around our country. On multiple occasions I have reported on damage done on a regular basis in the Hillsboro Cemetery. In late December, a man allegedly driving a stolen pickup truck damaged several headstones in a Lynchburg Cemetery while he was trying to flee from police.
It makes me wonder where these people come from, and who raised them. Not to make light of a sorry situation, but it also makes me wonder why people that do such things are not worried about being haunted by the ghosts of those who rest beneath the damaged markers.
But the situation is not all gloom and doom. There are people like my friend. There are many others who have spent recent days preparing local cemeteries for Memorial Day. There are others who have spent countless hours working on markers at the Old Burying Ground in Greenfield, at the old Morrow Bobbitt Cemetery in Lynchburg, and all throughout our county.
Thank goodness, those that try to help far outweigh those that cause damage. But conversely, it takes much more time trying to repair damage and neglect than it does to senselessly destroy things.
So, to all those that work tirelessly year around to maintain the resting places of our veterans and ancestors, and those who spent time in recent days making the cemeteries more attractive for Memorial Day — God bless you!
For those wondering how they can help limit the destruction, the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Real Estate & Professional Licensing, which is charged with ensuring the proper maintenance and operation of cemeteries, sent out a news release this week encouraging families to report any concerning issues they spot at Ohio cemeteries this holiday weekend.
“Memorial Day is a sacred time of remembrance in the United States,” Commerce Director Sherry Maxfield said in the release. “We want to ensure a positive visit for everyone visiting Ohio cemeteries to honor their loved ones and heroes. For that to happen, cemetery owners need to be aware of issues and our agency needs to know if the problems can’t be resolved locally.”
The department’s laws and guidelines for the maintenance and operation of cemeteries help keep cemeteries clean and inviting. The guidelines include cutting the grass at least once a month, removing trash and funeral flowers monthly, along with maintaining and repairing roads, buildings and fencing structures as necessary, the news release said.
“Cemeteries are the final resting place for our loved ones, including our veterans, making them significant to our history,” said Anne Petit, superintendent of the Division of Real Estate & Professional Licensing. “Our maintenance and operation guidelines help ensure Ohioans can honor the memories of the people they care about without any worry.”
If cemetery visitors notice those guidelines are not being met, they should bring it to the attention of the cemetery’s management. If the issue cannot be resolved with cemetery management, you can file a complaint with the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission (OCDRC) by downloading a complaint form online or by emailing [email protected]
A copy of the complaint will be sent to the cemetery operator for a response. If a response is not issued within 30 days of the complaint, the complainant and the cemetery operator will receive a notice to appear before the commission.
The OCDRC works to resolve disputes through arbitration and conciliation.
Cemeteries are sacred places. This week, they are a little more sacred because of those who paid the ultimate price for their country and freedom. Take a little time to go visit one. Considering what the veterans resting in them gave, it’s the least you can do.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.