- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Family members looking for loved one David Cooper, a veteran of the Civil War who died in 1896, couldn’t find him in Locust Hill Cemetery where he’s actually buried. Instead, there was a memorial stone marked “D.G. Goofer.”

“We can’t forget the sacrifices of generations of young men who paid the price of the rest of their lives so we can live in this country free,” Doretha Diefenbach-Hines told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1nlbkCT ). “That’s why I do this - to honor them.”

Diefenbach-Hines, an Evansville native who just recently moved to English, was touring area cemeteries doing genealogy work when she saw names at Locust Hill that she just felt couldn’t be correct and also saw many that were blank.

She started doing research to find out who was actually buried in each of the spots by going through funeral home records, church records, deeds, obituaries and newspaper articles.

Diefenbach-Hines first noticed the discrepancies about seven years ago but actively started to do something about it four years ago and through her work has gotten about 40 headstones corrected and replaced with the cost covered by the Veteran’s Administration. She’s got another set of about 40 with the completed applications ready to be replaced but is facing a little resistance from the VA, which is now saying descendants of those deceased should be the ones making the request.

“I feel these men served their country whether there are known survivors or not; they deserve a stone marking their grave that is correct,” she said. “Even without known survivors, why should they lay unmarked or improperly marked? You would be shocked if I were to point out how many are still incorrect.

Most of the errors she’s caught were made when the stones were replaced about 15 years ago. A veteran’s organization that was well-intentioned but without a lot of resources made the best guess they could from the deteriorated and damaged stones. She stressed that this effort was with good intentions and mistakes were made because there weren’t readily available records to show who the actual graves belonged to.

The outcome though were stones like D.G. Goofer, or a stone for York Hines that was replaced with Jack Links. The first name on the old stone had four letters with “K” as the last being the only legible letter. The group guessed it was “Jack.” The last name had “in” and “s” that was clear so they guessed “Links.”

“If a family was told that their kin, York Hines, was buried at Locust Hill and they go to find it they never would because what was there was Jack Links,” Diefenbach-Hines said. “So how could they go to the VA and ask for a new stone if they couldn’t even find it to begin with. So that’s where I come in.”

Each application for a new stone requires lengthy documentation to prove that the corrections are accurate and needed. She said she must have the evidence to back up her findings. She hopes that this next set of corrections are made, even without a family member stepping forward.

But if they don’t, Diefenbach-Hines said her next mission will be to track down family of these veterans if that is the only way they will get replaced. She’s already helped one veteran family do just that. They were looking for Joseph Saberton’s headstone and had no luck. The cemetery office wasn’t able to help but connected the family to Diefenbach-Hines knowing all of her research and she immediately was able to locate it.

“It meant a lot to do that,” she said of helping the family. “And since then they’ve had his stone replaced. This whole thing has been a neat experience.”

Diefenbach-Hines comes from a family of veterans - her dad was a World War II veteran, her husband a veteran of the Vietnam War and her grandfather (who was 81 when her mother was born) was a Civil War veteran. Projects like this one are critical for her. It doesn’t take a holiday like Veterans Day or Memorial Day for her thoughts to go to those who have sacrificed.

And she didn’t stop with this project either. Diefenbach-Hines discovered a neglected photo of the Grand Army of the Republic at the Coliseum and worked to restore the photo. Her research into the group of men led her on yet another interesting journey exploring the life of local soldiers who had died.

Her work led to 310 page book “The Last Call” telling the story of more than 900 men that were a part of the Civil War era veteran’s organization and includes more than 800 pictures. The book is for sale by visiting justgravediggin.com, Diefenbach-Hines‘ genealogy site that has an extensive free genealogical database as well.

Paul Dupont, Vanderburgh County Veteran’s Services county service officer, said every veteran is not only entitled to a memorial stone but to a correct one.

“It should be to honor the veteran for their service,” Dupont said.

If family of a veteran is in need of a stone or knows of one that should be replaced he said their office can help fill out the proper forms and the stones will be free. He said for a replacement stone there must be significant deterioration on the stone.

“These veterans with incorrect stones, they should be honored and their name so be correct,” Dupont said. “It isn’t right that a veteran should have the wrong name on his marker. We make every effort to make sure they are correct.”

Like Diefenbach-Hines, it doesn’t take upcoming Memorial Day for him to have his mind on veterans who have gone before us.

“It is so important not to forget our friends and comrades that have fallen,” Dupont said. “And not just those who fell in combat. They are all honored at the services. It is so important to remember them, now more than ever as we are currently in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and still have people dying overseas. Memorial day isn’t just a three-day weekend. It is a day to honor our veterans.”

He encouraged people to attend one of the many services beginning today and going through Monday to honor veterans and also to show compassion and support for veterans still living today.

“Without what these veterans have done for us we would not have the country we do today,” Dupont said.


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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