September 10, 2013

Veterans' cemetery maintenance mess covers some headstones with weeds

Tall grass, weeds overgrow section of Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, creating what one woman called a disgrace to her deceased parents' memory

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A two-year project to raise, realign and clean 6,517 headstones at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery is meant to improve the hallowed grounds of the cemetery and prevent the headstones of veterans and their families from sinking into the earth.

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Josh Luce, right, uses satellite coordinates to mark headstones that Nick Cushman set Monday at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. The Farley & Son Landscaping employees reset several hundred stones at the cemetery.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Betty Marchant places flowers Monday on the plots of her brother and sister-in-law at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. The New Jersey resident described the resting place for service members as "just beautiful."

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

However, the daughter of a couple buried there, who found weeds and dirt covering their headstones because of the project, said the conditions of the cemetery were so disgraceful during a recent visit that she wanted to exhume her parents' bodies and take them elsewhere.

That clearly isn't the reaction officials and the contractor on the job were hoping the project would elicit from the families of those buried at the Civic Center Drive cemetery.

"It has been a great project. On the whole, it's pretty clear the end result is going to look great when the grass has grown back in," said David Richmond, superintendent of the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery System. "In this case, weeds grew instead of grass. It was bad. I certainly regret we weren't able to catch the weed problem and deal with it. I think we have a plan that will take care of it in the future."

Susan Umberger, a North Carolina resident in Maine visiting relatives, has visited her parents' graves at the older of two Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery sites in Augusta multiple times this summer.

Each time, she said, she has been upset by the conditions of Section R, where her parents are buried. Her late father, of West Rockport, flew bombing missions in World War II; and her mother was in the USO for many years. She said they chose the veterans' cemetery in Augusta as their final resting place because of the perpetual care and beautiful upkeep.

She first visited in July and found the section where her parents are buried had been dug up for the headstone rehabilitation project, which she said is understandable. She returned in late August and found it so overgrown with tall weeds she had to use her foot to dig through the weeds and dirt to expose some of the headstones.

"If I could have exhumed my parents bodies that day, I would have. That's how I felt," Umberger said today. "It's not just my parents there. The men and women who served their country, and their family members, they deserve better."

Tom Farley, of Rockport-based Farley & Son Landscaping, the contractor on the $441,000 project, acknowledges Section R, where Umberger's parents are buried, recently was covered in crab grass and weeds, not the grass they'd hoped to grow.

He said a combination of factors, including a lack of water pressure that prevented workers from watering the grass, a period of warm weather and a time of year more favorable for growing weeds than grass resulted in unwanted weed growth.

He said the section has since been reseeded, but it'll still take a couple of weeks before that section starts to look like a good lawn.

"I understand completely" why Umberger was upset, Farley said. "Ultimately, you're breaking a few eggs to make an omelet. It's messy for a while, but it will end up looking good. We want to make sure it's right."

Umberger said today she visited the site again that morning and was pleased to see an irrigation system running on the section. However, she noted, some weeds more than a foot high are still there.

"It still needs a lot of help, but I can see they've made an effort with the irrigation," she said.

She said the section of cemetery where her parents are buried has not been in good condition for a long time, and she blamed a lack of sufficient state funding for upkeep of the grounds.

(Continued on page 2)

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