Veterans groups replace stolen cemetery markers

Union Hill Cemetery President Bill Taylor holds one of the new, aluminum veteran grave markers next to the stone of someone who served in an American war and was buried in Kennett Square. Chris Barber — The Avon Grove Sun

KENNETT SQUARE >> The Kennett Square American Legion and VFW have joined to replace 157 veterans markers that were stolen from local cemeteries in mid-July.

VFW Post Commander Mike Pralle said after he was informed that 157 brass markers/flag holders had been taken from Union Hill and St. Patrick cemeteries, he called the county veterans administration for help to buy new ones, but was told “no way” — they had no money to help replace them.

He said he then got together with the local American Legion officials, and they agreed to split the approximately $900 it would cost to buy new, but less expensive, versions.

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They reasoned that purchasing aluminum markers would not only be more economical, but they would be less attractive to thieves and less likely to be stolen in the future.

Those markers have now arrived and are being placed on the graves of veterans where they stolen.

Pralle said he presumed the markers, which are attached to rods and hold flags, were taken so the thieves could sell them for cash.

Cemetery President Bill Taylor expanded on the story. He said the report he received was that the thieves made off with the markers and returned home to Berks County. However, on the way home (or shortly thereafter) their car broke down and they took it to a shop for repairs.

The worker in the repair shop noticed about 37 of the markers in the car, called the police and had the robbers arrested.

The cemetery was initially 157 markers short, and with only 37 found in the car, Pralle calculated that the robbers had already sold 110 when they were caught.

According to Taylor’s latest information, there were two male robbers and a female who was somehow associated with the men but was not charged.

Cemetery Superintendent Rick Roberts said not all the veterans markers in the cemeteries were taken — just the ones from the southwestern most area in Union Hill and along the tree line in St. Pat’s. It appeared robbers pulled them out, replacing the flags in the ground, and piled the markers up. Then they returned later with a vehicle to gather them and drive them away.

In the process, he said, they were careless and did not take all that they had gathered, so Roberts found some of them lying in piles.

Now the aluminum markers have arrived and some have been replaced in the ground, but not all of them.

That is because the cemetery overseers and Roberts know which graves had been robbed, but they have no records of which wars the deceased veterans fought in.

There are markers for World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. So what Taylor and Roberts are doing is making educated guesses which war each veteran fought in based on their dates of birth and death.

“They pretty much know which markers were missing because it says on the stones they were veterans. They have to go by the age what war they were in,” Pralle said.

Taylor said he and Roberts are discussing enhanced record keeping for the cemetery in the future so they know what wars the veterans fought in.

Taylor shook his head when he talked about the robberies. “Can you imagine taking those from the cemetery? And from veterans? That’s just low,” he said.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .