Cleveland is home to the only small, county-owned veterans cemetery in the state, the Bradley County Veterans Cemetery, located in a portion of the historic Fort Hill resting place. It was dedicated …
Cleveland is home to the only small, county-owned veterans cemetery in the state, the Bradley County Veterans Cemetery, located in a portion of the historic Fort Hill resting place.
It was dedicated in 1990, and there are now 260 individuals, veterans and spouses, interred there.
John Thomason, a 35-year veteran in the Tennessee National Guard, moved to Cleveland in 1979, but it wasn’t until 2015, when issues arose surrounding missing caretaking equipment that John became aware that several of the veterans interred in the cemetery did not have headstones. Some of them had passed away several years earlier, but for various reasons the proper paperwork had not been filed in order for the headstones to be approved.
Being a veteran himself, Thomason could not let this stand.
“I just felt like it was the right thing to do. Being a veteran myself, I would hope that my family would do the same thing,” Thomason said.
With the support of the local Bradley County Veterans Service Office, Thomason made it a personal goal to identify and place the proper headstone for each veteran inside the Fort Hill Veterans Cemetery.
The extent of Thomason’s quest to fill in the gaps of the missing headstones led him down a rabbit hole some four years ago. For one of the interred veterans, even the name was missing from the temporary grave placard. Thomason had to use the dates of the deceased to the left and right of the plot to check more than six months of obituaries in the local library, as well as genealogy searches, just to identify the veteran. Once he had identified him, he still had to work with family members of the deceased to get the proper paperwork filed in order for the headstone to be approved.
In one instance, Thomason found one of the finished headstones leaning behind a local funeral home rather than at the veteran’s burial site.
The two headstones that were put into place on Thursday, April 25, were paid for by donations from the community. The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., provided the remaining two headstones which were set into place on Saturday.
Thomason applauded two Cleveland residents for their tireless efforts in maintaining the Veterans Cemetery. Robert and Paul Goins are both retired and are volunteers who devote their time on weekends and throughout the week to see that the upkeep is maintained. They have worked on their own to maintain the cemetery, but eventually it will need to pass on to other volunteers.
“They have done a fine, responsible and very able job in the many past years, and Robert and Paul have put in over 100 headstones themselves,” Thomason said.
Burial in the Veterans Cemetery can be attained by any Bradley County resident, and their spouse, who is a veteran. Once the proper paperwork is supplied to prove their veteran status, they are then required to pay for the opening and closing of the plot. The benefit is that they aren’t actually having to purchase the plot as they would in any other cemetery.
With the placement of the remaining four stones, the cemetery is back where it should have been all along, but having some additional volunteers would “ease the challenge” of upkeep for the cemetery and for the current volunteers moving forward.
Types of volunteer work include mowing and trimming the grass, care and cleaning of the pavilion and leveling off plots and applying seed.
According to Thomason, there is room for about 200 more veterans in the cemetery.
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