PETERSBURG, Va. (WTVR) — Veterans brought a chainsaw and other tools to a forgotten Petersburg cemetery to clear a place to pay their respects to their fallen their brothers on Memorial Day.
After Army veteran Randy Lofland and his family saw CBS 6 News’ story about the cemetery Friday, they decided to take action. They say trying to clean it up is a fitting way to spend Memorial Day.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it the last few days, seeing a tree over the top of a fellow soldier’s grave. It’s just heartbreaking,” said Lofland.
“My brother is currently serving in Afghanistan, and I just wanted to show these veterans some respect and clean up their graves,” said Samantha Guess, who helped the family clean up the cemetery.
Laura Powell-Kiser discovered the cemetery in 2004 after relatives were buried nearby. She said that even at that time, the cemetery was “completely and utterly overgrown with piles of dirt.”
Powell-Kiser said she contacted the police and a bio archeologist. Then in 2008, she said she documented human remains she found littering the site, which she estimates contains 300 graves.
“Most of the burials in here, either are those of Veterans from various US wars, different branches of the military, as well as people who are buried in here by Benevolence Society’s, that existed during the Early and mid-20th century,” said Powell-Kiser. “There are, not all of these burials, but most of them are Jim Crow Era.”
It is still unclear who is in charge of the cemetery’s upkeep, but CBS 6 has learned that the burial ground has been overgrown for so long that one woman elected to be buried somewhere else — away from her family’s final resting place.
The problems saddened Erma Brown, who said her grandfather, father and brother are buried in the cemetery. However, Brown said her mother, who witnessed the decline of the cemetery, decided she did not want to be buried there.
“This is like a forgotten area,” Brown said. “They never cut the grass, we have to come in and cut the branches and she saw that and she said don’t put her here.”
Brown said that over the years her family had to dig up her father’s head stone after it sunk. They also cut away branches that buried her brother’s grave marker.
Brown said she has complained about the deplorable conditions in the past, but vows to figure out how to get the cemetery cleaned up Tuesday.
Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for continuing coverage of this important local story.