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BELLMEAD

Veterans' headstones lie stacked up in the corner of a cemetery

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By Christine McCarthy

BELLMEAD- Eighteen veterans' headstones are stacked up in a corner of Doris Miller Memorial Park, because the vets' families haven't paid the setting fees.

Cemeteries around the country are facing the same problems.  The Department of Veterans Affairs pays for each veteran's headstone if the family orders it, but it's up to the veteran's family members to pay for the setting fee themselves. The cost at Doris Miller is $100.80 and it covers digging the hole and pouring concrete to set the stone, if necessary.

Marine Corps veteran Brandon Saenz first noticed the piles of grave markers beside a shed while he had been visiting a lost friend, Army Captain Curtis Agee, last Thursday.

"Why couldn't they have been stacked up neatly?" Saenz asked. "Instead of just in the corner like they were discarded like a piece of trash."

Cemetery owner Janice Matthews said she takes good care of the headstones and she has even paid for 50 of them to be set in the past.  But to pay for 18 more would be too expensive.

Matthews said she has tried to contact the families of those veterans several times by sending letters and making calls.  Most, she said, are unreachable because they have moved or died, and some just don't care.  In rare cases, Matthews said, families can't afford the bill.

"Kind of struck me hard, "Saenz said, "because as a veteran they paid their price."

Matthews said 200 veterans' headstones had been stacked up when she bought the cemetery eleven years ago.  A company had all 200 set in the ground free of charge.

"It's just a metal tag sticking up with their name on it, and I think they owe a little more respect than that," Saenz said.

Matthews will accept donations at the Doris Miller office, and Saenz said the Waco V. A. Credit Union will also be taking donations of any size.

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