Projects show way to graves of soldiers (11/5/09)

Improved records aid Veterans Day visits

Nov. 5, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The names on many headstones have faded, slowly eroding as the decades and centuries passed.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Two Boy Scout projects will make it easier to locate graves of veterans.

But a pair of Eagle Scout projects will help preserve the identities of veterans and others buried in Williston’s cemeteries even after the engravings on their tombstones turn to dust.

Jeffrey Dumas of Williston earlier this year updated veterans’ records, then mapped veterans’ gravesites. He also built a cedar bench that now sits next to the war memorial outside Town Hall.

Those visiting Williston’s cemeteries on Veterans Day this Wednesday can use the information rather than wandering among the graves and squinting at illegible inscriptions.

“I think his project was very well done, very much needed, and appreciated by those looking to see who the veterans are in Williston,” Town Clerk Deb Beckett said.

Fellow Boy Scout Benjamin Martin was inspired by Dumas’ project to further identify veterans for his Eagle Scout work. He is planning a kiosk at East Cemetery in Williston that would provide a place to post the names of veterans and all those who are buried there.

The 8-foot-high structure will be made out of concrete and brick, with a wood roof sheltering a board where Dumas’ map will be posted.

Martin, a 17-year-old high school senior from Hinesburg, said his project will allow visitors to locate specific graves and ensure veterans can be identified.

Determined researchers have long been able to find deceased Williston veterans and other residents by browsing through records on file at Town Hall or visiting cemeteries. But neither method was a surefire way of finding a specific grave.

A thick, bound index lists the dates of death for every resident from 1786-2001. Five people who fought in the Revolutionary War are listed, along with hundreds who participated in the conflicts that followed over the next two centuries.

The listings, however, were incomplete and fragmented, Beckett said. And then there was the problem of finding the grave in the cemetery.

Dumas painstakingly combed through the records and compiled maps showing the location of veterans buried in each of Williston’s four cemeteries. Those listings are now stored on a compact disc, but Beckett said she will soon incorporate them into the existing index.

“It’s a fantastic resource,” Beckett said, adding that she can employ the information when helping residents with genealogy research.

Larry Keefe, chairman of the Williston Cemetery Commission, said some graves include a plaque provided by the Veterans Administration. Boy Scouts place flags at veterans’ graves each spring, providing an additional marker. But some of the plaques and flag holders are missing.

Illegible inscriptions are another problem for those looking for specific graves, said Lynwood Osborne, another member of the Cemetery Commission.

“The headstones fade out and no one is left in the family to do anything about it,” he said.

The veteran project was Dumas’ second attempt to fulfill the community service and leadership requirement to earn the Eagle Scout designation, Boy Scouting’s penultimate achievement.

He initially tried to build a public dock on Lake Iroquois. But those who own homes on and around the lake objected, saying it would create safety problems by encouraging more boating on the relatively small lake and spreading invasive aquatic species.

The project received a state permit, but a coalition of home-owners and others interested in preserving the lake appealed. A settlement earlier this year allowed a shorter dock to be built.

But while the permit was under appeal, time was running out for Dumas, who under the rules had to complete Eagle Scout requirements before he turned 18. So he shifted to the cemetery project. He finished in time to become an Eagle Scout during a ceremony held last Memorial Day.

Dumas, who now attends an out-of-state college, could not be reached for comment. But his mother, Diane Dumas, said in an e-mail that he still plans to oversee the dock’s installation when he returns to Williston after finishing the semester next May.

“We are extremely proud of his values and drive to follow through,” Diane Dumas wrote in her e-mail.

Meanwhile, Martin said he plans to complete the kiosk by Memorial Day. He sees the project as a complement to Dumas’ work — making sure no one who served in the military becomes an unknown soldier.

“This will ensure no veteran goes unnoticed,” Martin said.