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By Pat Pratt
One headstone in the Troy City Cemetery marks the final resting place of a soldier who fought Mexican forces to bring Texas into the Republic. Another, a Civil War corporal who battled with the Union Indiana Volunteers against the Confederacy.
Moving throughout the cemetery, there is the grave of a man who gave his life fighting in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in some of the darkest days of World War I. Others, from more recent conflicts, such as World War II, Korea, and even Vietnam are also interred here.
All have something in common. They are all veterans who fought in our nation’s wars and are all left with no family to tend the often humble stone markers which tie them to our present.
On Saturday, more than three dozen community members sought to restore those memorials during an event organized by the Troy Genealogical Society. Those in attendance donned water, buckets and brushes and set out to clean the headstones of more than 50 veterans left without family who call the cemetery their final resting place.
Chris Moss was one of the many volunteers working at the event. He said cleaning the veteran’s headstones reminds him we may not have the many freedoms we have today if not for the “forgotten heroes” interred there.
“Seeing the condition of the cemeteries firsthand, and a lot of these veterans do not have families, it’s important to respect them,” Moss said. “They gave the ultimate sacrifice. So the least we can do is spend the afternoon to come and show the respect that they deserve.”
For other volunteers, the event was also a way to find out more about their own genealogy. Dale Gastenecker on Saturday was cleaning the headstone of his great uncle William Gastenecker, who fought in the Mexican-American War.
“It’s rewarding,” Gastenecker said. “I’ve had other relatives who have done extensive genealogy and I have added to that myself. I’ve done most of that in the office online, so it’s really wonderful to get out here and experience it.
Several young people were also helping at the event, giving them an opportunity to learn as well. Many Troy firefighters pitched in, saying they hoped to help give something back to the community.
U.S. Flags were also placed on the grave sites by volunteers, many of whom said they felt a civic responsibility to the veterans because of their sacrifices.
“Veterans have always been important to me,” said volunteer Diana Bauer. “Police, fire, military, I’ve always had deep respect for them. I appreciate all the work and all the labor by the volunteers who came out. It means a lot to get this revitalized throughout small cities, because they are not forgotten.”
Rachel Korte is the society treasurer and spearheaded the restoration event. Her father worked at Arlington National Cemetery and after he passed away last year, she looked for a way to honor his legacy and provide something beneficial to the community.
“My father worked at Arlington Cemetery and he passed away in 2021 of Covid 19,” Korte said. “I needed an outlet, so I cleaned my own family stones up to my third great grandparents. When I came home I passed by the cemetery and said ‘I can do something, I can do this.’”
Korte and the society worked for months to garner the special chemicals and other equipment needed for the restoration project. Headstones cleaned Saturday were done in strict accordance with National Park Service standards. All processes and chemicals used met the requirements in place at Arlington National Cemetery and other veterans cemeteries.
“I wanted to get the community involved and we did a fundraiser last year,” Korte said. “We had 24 sponsors, companies and businesses locally help contribute to us getting the material costs and everything together.”
Biographies on many of the veterans were included in packets distributed to volunteers. Each told as much as possible about the veteran’s history, family and civilian life. Korte and the society worked many hours on the research, which she and others hope will offer a glimpse into some local history.
“I feel like I have connected with these veterans, learning about who they are and what life was like in Troy 100 years ago, what they sacrificed,” Korte said. “Like this gentleman, who left for war on his 30th birthday and was killed in action. So that’s all been fascinating to me.”
And like many at the event, Korte too felt a special duty to help take care of the final resting places of our nation’s veterans. It is her hope, the project will be noticed by other communities near and far, that they might move to do the same in their local cemeteries.
“All across America, in every single city cemetery, it’s our responsibility,” Korte said.