Hillsboro hails vets with 500 crosses
HILLSBORO, N.D. -- Old Glory stands at attention in a stiff spring breeze atop hundreds of bright white crosses this Memorial Day at what appears to be about half of the gravesites at Riverside Cemetery, located between Old U.S. Highway 81 and In...
HILLSBORO, N.D. -- Old Glory stands at attention in a stiff spring breeze atop hundreds of bright white crosses this Memorial Day at what appears to be about half of the gravesites at Riverside Cemetery, located between Old U.S. Highway 81 and Interstate 29, just north of town.
The 32-inch-tall crosses, made of PVC material, are just the latest tribute to military veterans in Hillsboro, one of the most veteran-friendly communities in one of the most veteran-friendly counties around.
"It's been a tradition in Hillsboro for a long time to have crosses at veterans' graves in cemeteries we take care of," said VFW Commander Rich Gehrke, a native of Adams, N.D., who served with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971.
Volunteers from Hillsboro's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4172 and American Legion Post 4 made 500 crosses this spring, in assembly-line fashion, to replace wooden crosses that had weathered with age over the past few decades. They also drilled holes in the tops of the crosses to hold the small U.S. flags.
The $5,000 project was financed through several fundraising events sponsored by Hillsboro's Vets Club, which is operated by volunteers from both posts.
The flags were placed at veterans' graves in the 10 Hillsboro-area cemeteries that are overseen by the combined organization.
Along with the red-white-and-blue flags, blue flags flank the gravesites of members of the VFW Auxiliary.
The cross replacement project started about two years ago, just two years after the dedication of the Traill County Veterans Memorial, a massive Black India granite and cement memorial on the Traill County Courthouse grounds in Hillsboro.
That $80,000 project, which was dedicated in 2006, contains the names of about 5,300 names of Traill County residents who have served in the military.
"When you do things like this, people are very generous," Gehrke said.
A 15-member committee representing all communities in the county tracked down the names. The criteria -- besides being honorably discharged from the military -- were that the people had to have lived in Traill County at one time.
Standing on a 60-by-30-foot cement apron, the monument consists of six, 6-foot high trapezoidal cement rows, with each face carrying the names of 500 service men and women on 12 granite tablets.
There is room for about 6,000 names on the Traill County Veterans Memorial, with a special row recognizing veterans killed or missing in action and prisoners of war. To date, the memorial contains names of 92 people killed in action and 13 prisoners of war.
Some 795 registered military veterans live in Traill County, Les Asche, county veterans service officer said.
He said the area veterans groups work hard to support veterans throughout the county.
He and Gehrke cite Hillsboro's Vets Club as an example.
For years, just like most communities in the Northern Plains, Hillsboro had separate clubs for the VFW and American Legion.
But in 1970, the two groups decided to combine forces to operate one club, the Vets Club. The board of directors consists of four representatives from each organization.
For the past three years, members volunteer to work at the club, which saves money on wages and benefits. The club normally has one person on the payroll through the summer months.
Otherwise, members volunteer -- with no pay -- for all duties, including weekly fish fry events during Lent, weekly auxiliary hamburger feeds on Fridays in May, along with corn feeds and other special events throughout the year.
"Both groups work so well together," Gehrke said of the Legion and VFW.
He believes the Veterans Memorial in downtown Hillsboro is the only one in the region that includes names of veterans from an entire county.
But once that project was completed, they were looking for something else to do. That's how the cemetery cross improvement project was born.
"This is our way of saluting our departed comrades," Gehrke said.
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .