MANSFIELD -- Memorial Day 2022 will carry a deeper meaning for 125 deceased former U.S. military members buried in the Mansfield Cemetery.
That's the planned dedication date for headstones on the previously unmarked final resting places for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, according to Ken Estep, executive director of the Richland County Veteran Service Commission.
Estep and Sue Dell, administrative assistant for the commission, discussed the project Tuesday with Richland County commissioners.
Estep credited Dell and Pam Bautz, administrator of the Mansfield Cemetery Association for the effort that will provide headstones for the 125 graves in the cemetery's Honors Ground set aside for former military members.
"Sue started this project over 11 years ago," Estep said.
During a visit to the cemetery, Dell said she noticed the lack of headstones on many veterans' graves, including a Purple Heart recipient. It triggered a research project with Bautz, matching cemetery records with veterans' records, successfully identifying the 125 graves.
"Sue said she has always wanted to see every soldier's grave marked," Bautz said. "We started digging into the books and burial records. We did a lot of the chasing of death records and Sue worked the veterans' information areas."
Bautz said officials knew the graves were those of military members due to their placement in the Honors Ground. It was a matter of matching burial/death records with veterans' paperwork.
The painstaking row-by-row effort paid off and led to a contract with Purdy Construction of Mansfield to pour uniform concrete base rows upon which the headstones are being placed.
"The guys at Purdy have been great to work with," Dell said.
Dell said most of the headstones were ordered though the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Estep some of the graves go back as far as the Civil War, which made documentation more difficult and led to the purchase of headstones through other sources.
"We are making it look very uniform," Bautz said. "It will be quite beautiful when it's done. It's been a very fulfilling project."
Weather has delayed some of the work, but hopes are optimistic the project will be completed in time for next May's Memorial Day ceremonies.