Nutley’s new mayor spearheads fixing sunken veteran’s gravestone

As Memorial Day nears, Nutley Mayor John V. Kelly III and the Department of Public Affairs along with local veterans have cleaned the graves of veterans to ensure they look more presentable for the holiday.

John McGuire, incoming commander of Nutley VFW Post 493 and President of the Nutley Veterans Council and his daughters have maintained St. Vincent Methodist Cemetery and the Franklin Reformed Churchyard Cemetery for the last eight years. Every year, they clean the tombstones and place American flags in honor of their service.

“We try to keep the flags up until July 4th,” McGuire said. “This is the first year we’re going a little more above and beyond. I hope that by including my daughters, they’ll someday continue the legacy on their own.”

McGuire has been researching names of those whose graves they repair to ensure no individual is missed; however, it’s not always easy, as the cemetery maps used for verification are outdated. For example, one morning. McGuire and his daughters Grace, 11, Bethany, 1,) and Emma, 5, discovered a sunken tombstone for Sgt. A. M. Vreeland hidden behind some weeds at the cemetery.

“It has sunk to almost the point where you can’t even see it anymore,” Kelly said. “It was found several feet below the ground. We asked the Nutley Fire Department for help and they decided to use this as an opportunity for a training exercise in setting up a pulley system and rigging to pull the tombstone out of the ground — as if they were pulling someone out from the ground.”

On Saturday, May 18, the fire department, the McGuire family and the new mayor set to work on rescuing the sunken tombstone. Various attempts were made to loosen the stone from the ground, but it appeared the operation would require stronger machinery. Progress continued May 22 as Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci and the Parks and Recreation Department joined the operation.

Using the newest equipment to the department’s arsenal, the CAT 420XE backhoe loader, the tombstone was finally able to be dug out and raised from the ground. The stone was restored to its original place, ensuring everything was in order just in time for Memorial Day.

“This is an outstanding project,” Tucci said. “Anytime we can offer our help to preserve the memory of our veterans, we are honored to participate.”

“This is all about a community coming together to celebrate our veterans and also get some training in at the same time,” Kelly said. “There is a lot of value added here for the entire community.”

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