Memorial Day tributes honor local veterans
by Jeff Richards
Contributing Writer
May 29, 2014 | 1729 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Flags and crosses fill the VFW Circle of Honor at Sunset Memorial Cemetery during the VFW’s annual Memorial Day remembrance event. Photo by Jeff Richards
Flags and crosses fill the VFW Circle of Honor at Sunset Memorial Cemetery during the VFW’s annual Memorial Day remembrance event. Photo by Jeff Richards
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Over Memorial Day weekend, Moab’s cemeteries were filled with hundreds of visitors paying their respects to their loved ones’ graves.

At both Grand Valley Cemetery on Moab’s east side and the Sunset Memorial Gardens in Spanish Valley, temporary displays of hundreds of flag-topped crosses once again were erected in memory of the deceased who’d served in the armed forces.

At Grand Valley Cemetery, American Legion Post 54 commander Ron Irvin and a handful of volunteers spent hours installing nearly 200 crosses in a rectangular area along the north edge of the cemetery. Meanwhile, at Sunset Memorial Gardens, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10900 commander Fred Every and more than a dozen helpers from the VFW and its auxiliary organization, went to work on the large circular plot of grass known as the “Circle of Honor.” There, nearly 500 crosses were installed in an array that nearly filled the circle.

“We have more than doubled the number of crosses out here since we started about 20 years ago,” Every said.

He noted that 11 new crosses were added this year, representing veterans who have died in the past 12 months, and who are either buried in the cemetery or were cremated yet have a strong local connection. Each cross bears the full name of a military veteran, and the crosses are arranged in alphabetical order by surname. There is also an additional cross for an unknown soldier from each war or conflict represented.

Irvin, who oversees the American Legion’s handling of military recognitions at Grand Valley Cemetery, recently helped successfully lobby Utah lawmakers for the passage of a bill instituting recognition for Vietnam veterans. Irvin said there are approximately 28,800 veterans from Utah who served in Vietnam and there are about 50,000 Vietnam era veterans living in the state. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 275 in March, proclaiming March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day.

Four individuals from Moab are known to have been killed in action in Vietnam, Irvin said. They are Army Pfc. Dick Hooten Christensen, Marine Capt. George Lawrence Hubler, Marine Pfc. Dennis Ray McCoy, and Navy Petty Officer Frederick Don Snyder.

“Memorial Day is a time for honoring all those who served, and particularly those who gave their lives,” Irvin said.

At noon on Memorial Day, VFW members conducted a brief but poignant ceremony at Sunset Gardens, lowering the Circle of Honor’s main U.S. flag to half-staff as “Taps” was played on a bugle.

The circular lawn at Sunset Gardens recently received a fresh batch of lush green grass, thanks to the new sod that was put down a couple weeks ago by cemetery staff and volunteer helpers.

Cemetery sexton Todd Peterson, who oversees the maintenance and upkeep of both cemeteries, said that so far, the new grass is doing well.

“The wind makes it hard to keep the whole circle watered, and it will get harder as the weather gets hotter,” Peterson said, noting that the previous patch of grass had become overrun with weeds and windblown sand, especially along the southern edge of the circle.

The challenge, Peterson said, will be to keep the lawn watered enough to keep the grass healthy, even while dealing with current irrigation water restrictions and the cemetery’s antiquated sprinkling system. He recommends a supplementary watering system be installed around the perimeter of the circle, just inside the sidewalk.

Every said the local VFW members are willing to help out with volunteer manpower in keeping the circle watered and weeded, and is hoping to raise the funds needed for a supplementary watering system.

“If we need to put in some more sprinklers to help keep it green, that’s what we’ll do,” Every said. 

The money for the new sod came from $3,200 in discretionary funding that was recently approved by the Grand County Council. Council member Gene Ciarus said he and other county officials are hoping to sit down with cemetery district board and discuss budgeting and other issues.

“They do an amazing job with what limited funds they have,” Ciarus said of the cemetery sexton and his small staff.  “This is something that’s got to be done, and it’s got to be done right,” Ciarus added.

VFW member Russell Pogue, who had previously complained about the state of the grass, said he was pleased with how both cemeteries looked over the weekend, and that he appreciated the work that had been done.

“It’s all about communication,” Pogue said. “People talking to each other, making sure that it gets done, and I think that’s what has happened here.”

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