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DAV members active in drive to restore dignity to deceased African-American veterans.

Two veterans walked along a creek at e bottom of Hillcrest Cemetery in southern Ohio. One stooped, reached down, and lifted something from the grass. "Isn't this a human femur?" he asked. Anyone who believes that tough old soldiers never cry did not see these two men that day.

The men were among several veterans' leaders who toured this forgotten burial ground at the request of Russ Jackson, a trustee of Anderson Township, where the cemetery is located.

Once a beautiful site overlooking the valley of the Ohio River, Hillcrest was established as a burial place for African-American veterans and members of their families. The remains of nearly 1,000 veterans rest in this ground, which was privately owned but has suffered three decades of neglect.

"The cemetery's condition is shocking," said DAV Department of Ohio Commander Ray Hutchinson, who serves as adjutant of nearby Clermont County DAV Chapter 63. "Erosion has exposed grave vaults. Graves have caved in. Groundhogs live in many vaults. And, when you drive them out, they just move to another vault. Worst of all, there's been vandalism."

Though Chapter 63 erected a flagpole and memorial at the site in the late 1970s, the only party toiling on the grounds for several years was the Adult Probation Community Services Department of Ohio's Hamilton County. Today, volunteers include veterans' organizations, high schools, Boy and Girl Scout troops, Civil Air Patrol, Army National Guard, and individuals from the community.

"The long-term problems of Hillcrest can't be solved with lawn mowers, weed eaters, and bags of concrete mix," said Ohio DAV Senior Vice Commander Tom Keller, an Anderson Township resident. "Extensive ground erosion is endangering the entire hillside on which the cemetery rests."

The Ohio Army National Guard has been drawn into the drive to build land works that can permanently halt the erosion. This would provide quality training for military engineering groups, according to a request the Guard sent to Washington, asking permission to do the work. Among those following the progress of that request are Ohio Governor Robert Taft and Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

The Guard hopes to begin work in the spring. When the work is completed, the VA will replace heavily eroded gravestones and provide markers for the graves of veterans who currently have no stones. Preparing for that day, DAV members joined a group of local citizens who recently participated in an effort to identify all unmarked graves and clean up the stones of those that are marked.

"The veterans buried at Hillcrest risked their lives, their limbs, and their health in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam," said Irv Whitford, who organized a group of volunteers from DAV Chapters in Northern Kentucky. "There are even some veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish American War in Hillcrest.

Commander Hutchinson added, "When these veterans served in our armed forces, our nation had not yet extended to them their full birthright as citizens. Yet they fought for the United States. They fought because they believed America offered the world's best hope for a nation where all would someday find the fullest measure of justice and freedom. And they, like all veterans, should be assured of burial in a place of honor."
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Title Annotation:Disabled American Veterans; Hillcrest Cemetery in Hamilton County, Ohio
Publication:DAV Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:537
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