By DENISE GRANT
About 100 limestone crosses, which once honored Hancock County’s war dead, were for more than a decade piled unceremoniously behind the old county home, until a few days ago.
“It always bothered me,” said Clark Frazier of Rawson, whose brother’s name is on one of them.
The crosses stood for years at Maple Grove Cemetery and were removed when a new memorial was started in 2001. Funded mainly by the Hancock County commissioners, the $225,000 memorial was completed in 2003.
According to news reports at the time, not everyone favored taking out the crosses even though they were hard to maintain.
More than 240 crosses, dating back to Civil War veterans, were removed from the cemetery, with several given to family members. About 100 of the crosses were unclaimed and eventually ended up in the pile, outdoors and on the ground, at the old county home on Hancock County 140.
The stones were moved to a shed on the property this week after Frazier called The Courier and the newspaper made inquiries.
Frazier took his brother’s cross years ago, when the Hancock County Veterans Service Commission announced that families could have the old crosses for free. The commission and other veterans’ groups supervised the construction of the new memorial.
“I bet a lot of families don’t even realize those crosses are back there,” Frazier said.
Frazier’s older brother, Billy, is missing in action since Sept. 19, 1944, when his Army company was overrun by two companies of German troops in Belgium. The soldier was 20 years old.
“Billy was the salutatorian of his class. I still have his commencement speech. It is written out in his own writing. He talked of a future, a future that he didn’t get to see,” Frazier said.
“Reading it always tears me up inside.”
Frazier went to the Schnee Elfel Forest in Belgium twice in search of his brother’s remains. The odds were “very long” of locating his dog tags with a metal detector, he said.
The battlefield is large, with a heavy concentration of shrapnel and other “battle metals.”
Although the names of Hancock County’s war dead are on the new veterans memorial at Maple Grove Cemetery, Frazier said the white crosses are special. The dates on some go back to the 1800s.
He recently pulled out the crosses for Rawson’s war dead. They will be on display this weekend near the Village Hall.
Frazier said he found the crosses for Malcolm Daily, an Army Air Corps second lieutenant lost in Italy; Minard Deeds, a Marine lost on Saipan; Army Sgt. Eugene Fox, lost in Germany; Marine Pvt. Boyd Hackwork; and Army Pfc. Julius Lootens, missing since 1945.
Frazier is researching the names of others.
Nicole Coleman, director of the Veterans Service Commission, learned of the crosses this week and took the matter to her board immediately.
“The crosses that are left belong to families that could not be located,” Coleman said.
“Many of the crosses were so old, they were falling apart and it was difficult to read the people’s names. The new memorial does a much better job honoring the veterans,” she said.
She said the commission placed several ads in The Courier years ago, seeking family members to take the crosses. Some families refused them, she said.
“What we need to determine is how long we have been holding these, what is the appropriate amount of time, and what is the appropriate way to dispose of them,” Coleman said.
She agreed with Frazier that the symbolism of a pile of crosses is terrible, and called his efforts touching.
“What if you don’t know the back story? We don’t want people to think that is how we feel about veterans here in Hancock County,” she said.
In June, she said, commission members will document the names on the crosses and once again ask family members to claim them.
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