By: Katie Kaplan | WCTV Eyewitness News
February 20, 2020
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A local Vietnam Veterans group is spearheading a plan to re-align military headstones at the Oakland Cemetery in Tallahassee.
Members of Vietnam Veterans of America Big Bend Chapter #96 noticed the tombstones were in "disarray" while they were visiting the graves of Vietnam Veterans who were killed in action during the war.
"My oath of enlistment has not expired," said president Joe West. "We came across this while we were visiting KIA gravesites and noticed the un-uniformity of this Veteran's section."
West said there are 164 graves in all at the cemetery, which was where local servicemembers were buried before Tallahassee National Cemetery existed.
Nearly all of the graves have a large headstone, which West said weigh 210 pounds each. They will have to be painstakingly removed and replaced. Most of the rows are crooked and some of the headstones are leaning. Nearly all of them are 12-inches too high, said West.
"After seeing the National Cemetery and seeing how in-line, no matter which way you look, they're perfectly lined up, and coming here and seeing the disarray of each row, it's disturbing that our Veteran's here don't have the dignity and respect that they would get in a national cemetery," West said.
After the visit, VVABB#96 reached out to people at the National Cemetery.
"They're giving us basically the instruction book on, 'This is how you need to do it. This is how you make that happen," he said.
The group then reached out to the City of Tallahassee, which donated the materials and eventually joined forces with Vet Inc. Tallahassee for the labor. They plan to start at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29.
"We'll do a small row and get a feel for how it's going to go, how much time, how much material we're going to need to finish it up," said Keith Planner, President of the organization.
Each headstone will be gently encased for protection, before being they are loosened from the ground. The headstone will be lifted while they rework the soil. Once finished, the stones will be put back and pressure-washed.
While it's a community effort, the Vets behind it feel it is all part of the oath they took so many years ago.
"That's just how it works in our brotherhood," said West.
Anyone who wants to volunteer to help is invited out. They plan to work at the cemetery several Saturdays over the next few months. If all goes well, they may move on to others in the area.