Updated Mon, Nov 11, 2013 10:05 am
The cemeteries at The Ridges in Athens is the final resting place for 86 veterans and maybe more than a hundred more. It's the "maybe" that is concerning and one of the reasons why Friends of the Athens Asylum Cemeteries holds an annual Veterans Day ceremony.
More than a thousand are buried in the cemeteries, many with only a number to identify them. The deceased are former residents of the asylum and unceremoniously were buried with just a numbered grave marker to separate them. Over the years,
Friends of Athens Asylum Cemeteries have worked to rectify this by verifying the names of the dead with surviving family members and obtaining permission to replace the markers with properly named stones.
Prior to Saturday's ceremony, 18 civilian graves were upgraded and are now recognized with their names instead of a number. Berta Lockhart, president of the organization, said 43 graves holding veterans have been given a new named stone. She said they are trying to find family for the others and that she believes there may be another hundred veterans buried in the cemeteries.
Lockhart spoke at the ceremony and thanked the families who have helped their cause.
"We had a great turnout. There were a lot of families this time, some that came from out of state," she said. "It helps provide some closure."
Ret. Col. John F. Hoff was the keynote speaker of the event and has a relative in the cemetery.
"She used to be known as 594. Now, she has a name ... Every once in a while, doing the right thing is just easy to do. My purpose of coming here today is really to acknowledge all of you for the great job you have done," Hoff said.
Hoff proudly told those in attendance that his relative's name is Hermina Walker and that her grandfather was a Revolutionary War soldier who went to church with General George Washington and helped drag the blocking chain across the Hudson River.
He then thanked the Friends for helping to give him back his relative.
"Many were troubled souls that lived here, my distant relative was one of them ... They all deserve some individual recognition with something other than just a number," Hoff said. "They're all daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, and they all cared and all they all had names ... They deserve more than just to be rolled into a hole in the ground and I thank you for restoring to them that sense of dignity and self-worth."
"Veterans Day is a time to remember them for their service," he added. "Each had value, each contributed something. Each were valued members of the community and each were loved members of a family."
Retired Athens Police Department officer and Army veteran Terry Frost helped close out the ceremony by speaking of the Civil War veterans and the pain of being forgotten. He noted that Ohio's representation of soldiers was the third most in the war and that Athens County has the highest number of men in Ohio serve.
Frost also detailed the origin of Taps from a story of a father who found his son fighting for the other side on the battlefield and that he was only allowed a trumpet as tribute during his burial.
After a volley of shots from rifle and cannon, Taps was played to an honored crowd of the fourth annual Veterans Day ceremony as family members left white roses on the graves of those who served their country.