Operation Headstone: Grave markers make their way home

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AUGUSTA,Ga. (WJBF)- In June the greater Augusta region was greatly disturbed by the news of  115 veteran grave markers found under a trash heap behind an abandoned funeral home.  The community outrage was felt nationally, and brought many to question how our local members of the Armed Forces were receiving their final honors deserving of each of them.

Through the honorable efforts of Mark Bowen, Richmond County Coroner, he independently challenged his team to bring a positive resolve to this egregious act.  In addition to helping right this wrong, the Coroner solicited the support and assistance of ForcesUnited, a local veteran support and advocacy organization to lend their assistance and expertise in restoring honor to our deceased service members.    

ForcesUnited and Mark Bowen held a press conference on Friday to update the community on their progress.

“Some of these are from the 60’s and 70’s these folks that have passed away. so even finding the family members has been a tough task. That’s why it was important that we brought this to the community because it was presented to the community,” says ForcesUnited Director, Don Clark.

They’re calling it ‘Operation Headstone’. It’s a collaborative effort between ForcesUnited, the Coroner’s Office and the Marshall’s office.

“We’re going to be able to put 99 percent of these down and proud to say that we can do at least 99 percent of them. It’s been an honor to be able to do this, especially to know that these veterans are going to get the dignity they desire,” says Richmond County Coroner, Mark Bowen.

Some of the cemeteries where the grave markers belong are not in Augusta but Don Clark says that most of those cemeteries are honoring them by covering the cost of the installation.

“We have a tremendous community and a tremendous region that loves their military but this is another way that we can put a positive spin on how we show respect and honor for our veterans,” says Clark.

Jason Purkhiser served in Iraq and make his way to the press conference because he says it’s something that hits home.

“I wonder at time because a lot of my buddies haven’t returned and I wonder do they have a headstone. Are they graves finally met to where I could be able to go visit them,” says Jason Purkhiser.

He says he is appreciative of the efforts and the organizations that worked together to make this right.

“It would give some closure. It would ease the hearts and minds of the family members and of the solider. He or she will be able to rest I peace knowing that at least they been identified and not just a blank grave or a piece of dirt throwed on us,” says says Jason Purkhiser.

There will have a ceremony on November 2nd. Teams will take these grave markers and put them where they belong.

Here is the list of names that will be honored come November 2nd.

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