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Somerset volunteer makes sure veterans' graves are recognized

The Standard Times - 10/31/2018

Oct. 31--SOMERSET -- Some of the graves in town cemeteries have not been marked to identify the resting places of military veterans.

People walking by a grave would never know that the person served their country to help preserve their freedoms and way of life. But thanks to the effort of Arthur LePage, those veterans are starting to get identified.

LePage has been photographing all of the gravestones in some of the town's cemeteries -- not just for veterans, but all people buried there -- and has compiled information on their birth and death dates, cemetery plots, locations and whether the graves have flat markers or upright stones. Through that work, which LePage has been doing in conjunction with the Somerset Wreaths Across America project, graves not previously identified as belonging to veterans are getting the recognition they deserve.

Kathleen Gunning, leader of the Somerset Wreaths Across America project, which puts a wreath on the grave of every veteran in town, double-checks the information for LePage. She tells LePage if there is no military marker for the veteran.

"He has done yeoman's work," Gunning said of LePage.

LePage looks at obituaries for all gravestones he photographs at the cemeteries. Gunning said that is how they have found out that some of the veterans' graves were not properly marked. She said when a grave is found to be that of a veteran, a veterans' marker is put there.

Gunning said that so far veterans of the Spanish-American and Civil wars have been identified. She said the town had the death records of these people and records that they were veterans, but did not have information about where they were buried. LePage said he cannot always tell if a person is a veteran through an obituary because people are selective about what information they disclose in those write-ups. LePage makes copies of the obituaries he researches.

"There's still a lot I need to research because all of the obituaries are not online," LePage said. "I have to go to the library to look at microfiche."

LePage, who works as a computer technician, is not a veteran.

He puts the information into a database and then places the information on maps to show where each gravestone is, which makes finding the graves easier.

Gunning said she is going to give all of the information to the town. She said Town Clerk Dolores Berge has also been helping out by giving her information after veterans have passed away.

Berge said families sometimes don't mark loved one's graves as belonging to veterans. She said they may not have the military records to prove their lived ones were veterans. A lot of records were destroyed in a fire in a military records center and she said if the records were in that place, copies might be difficult to obtain.

LePage said he started out doing family genealogy and discovered the Find a Grave website. He said some gravestones are unreadable and those are not always the real old stones. He said the lettering on some stones can become unreadable faster because of the type of stone or lettering used.

LePage said he started out in researching the cemeteries because he wanted to preserve the history of some of the people. He started with the Mount Hope Cemetery in Swansea and then went to the Nathan Slade Cemetery in Somerset. His sister told him about a Wreaths Across America project meeting in Somerset. They visited and that's how he got involved with that project, which Gunning started last year.

LePage said the work at Nathan Slade Cemetery is almost completed, but the job at St. Patrick's Cemetery is more of a challenge. He said the work is about half-done and he hopes to complete it next summer. LePage said the work on the newer parts of the cemetery has been completed, but he said it is tough to determine exactly where graves are in the older portions of the cemetery. Gunning said about 645 veterans are buried in that cemetery.

LePage said he has found some interesting history as he has researched the graves, such as two women who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame who are buried in St. Patrick's, along with plane crash victims and hit-and-run victims who he would not have known about if he did not do the research.

After he finishes the work on St. Patrick's Cemetery, LePage said he wants to start working on Gibbs and Palmer cemeteries.


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