No grave markers at cemetery?


NORTH ARLINGTON — There’s a proud legacy of U.S. military service in the Hancox family.

Arthur Hancox was a World War I veteran, his son Richard fought in the European Theater with the Army during World War II and Robert, representing the third generation, is a Marine veteran with service in Vietnam.

Arthur and Richard Hancox are buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington, and Robert makes periodic visits from his Ridgewood residence to check on the gravesites.

Remembering those who’ve served in combat for their country — and those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice — is a value that Robert holds dear to his heart, not just for family but for fellow G.I.s as well.

He chairs the Hoboken Vietnam Veterans post which was responsible for putting up a memorial on Pier A dedicated to the nine Mile Square City’s veterans killed in Vietnam.

So when he came to pay his respects at the gravesites earlier this month, he made an unhappy discovery.

“Veterans’ markers have always been at the graves, ever since I was a kid,” Hancox told The Observer. “Now, all of a sudden, they were gone.”

He said he went to the cemetery’s maintenance garage and asked to speak to a supervisor. “He was a nice guy,” Hancox said, “but he told me the cemetery has a rule to remove all these markers. I said, ‘Well, I want mine back.’’’

So the supervisor accompanied him to a storage area where Hancox said he saw “barrels” containing perhaps “hundreds” of different types of veterans’ markers.

Some of the markers are made of bronze, he said, while others are copper “and the latest seem to be aluminum.”

Hancox’s frustration came across in his comment to CBSNewYork: “It’s awful. You got a lot of heroes buried in this cemetery, and [the marker’s] the only thing they had left.”

After his story went public, Hancox said he got a phone call from someone in Peekskill, N.Y., reporting that a cemetery in that area of Westchester County “has removed [similar markers] and replaced them with plastic ones. And, supposedly, they sold the original ones to a recycler.”

The Archdiocese of Newark, which owns and operates Holy Cross Cemetery, confirmed that it has a policy in all its cemeteries (in Essex, Hudson, Bergen and Union counties) to remove the markers as a safety issue.

An Archdiocesan statement issued May 16 said: “The staff of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark empathize with grieving families who wish to add temporary, personal items to the memorials of their departed loved ones.”

While staffers refrain from moving “permanent monuments or affixed memorialization from any headstone,” other types of “cemetery decorations” are subject to removal.

“Wooden, glass, plastic or metal items, especially when not permanently affixed to a headstone, can easily become a tripping hazard or a serious threat when airborne from lawn equipment.”

Cemetery staff “holds removed personal items for a reasonable period so families may retrieve them.”

To honor veterans, the Archdiocese “remember[s] them throughout the year during monthly Masses, Veteran’s Day, Flag Day, and certainly on Memorial Day.

“Flags are flown daily in designated areas over all Archdiocesan cemeteries to honor those presently serving and those who have served. Additionally, we place more than 1,000 American flags at the memorials of veterans interred at our Catholic cemeteries for Memorial Day, and those flags remain through Flag Day [June 14].

“All are invited to visit the graves of our fallen heroes as we pray for all our departed loved ones on Monday, May 29, at 11 a.m.”

Archdiocesan spokesman James Goodness said the Archdiocesan cemeteries “have been undertaking a regular seasonal cleaning program for decades” and that “things that stick in the ground,” like veterans’ markers and little U.S. flags, “get removed over time” because “they’re going to fade, tear or look unsightly after a while or break, becoming safety hazards. As maintenance staff come by, these things get unsettled and come up, so, for the most part, this policy is preventative.”

The cleanup work is done also, he said, “out of respect for a clean and serene environment.”

Meanwhile, Goodness said, “we will encourage and permit temporary veteran’s markers from now through Flag Day.”

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