Updated: Saturday, 05 Jun 2010, 5:13 AM EDT
Published : Saturday, 05 Jun 2010, 5:12 AM EDT
VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - It was a cemetery long forgotten, the resting place of war veterans hidden behind dense vegetation.
And Don Mize, the Harrison Township trustee, couldn't stand it anymore.
Helderman Cemetery is unknown to most. Until recently, its aged tombstones were buried in a small cluster of trees just off Indiana 61 outside Monroe City.
When Mize learned of its existence, all that could be seen was an old wooden sign marking its location. He vowed to uncover it by Memorial Day to honor the veterans that lay beneath the stones.
"Out of respect for our vets and the people who have loved ones buried here," he said. "These graves haven't been visible for years."
Buried in Helderman Cemetery, according to a plot done in 1940, are at least eight veterans, dispersed amongst dozens of graves.
The names and dates on their grave markers are faded and worn, many not visible at all.
According to those documents, buried there are two Civil War veterans, J.L. Hewitt and John Meyers, along with two American Revolutionary War veterans, Alvin Perkins and Jonathan Weton.
At least four other veterans are said to be buried there, but their identities aren't known, Mize said.
Mize is treating every tombstone with care, slowing cutting away the trees and vegetation that's hidden it for years.
But he's not doing it alone.
He's enlisted the help of the Knox County Jail inmate work force. Crews have been weed-eating, cutting down trees, raking and removing brush. And after several days of work, tombstones have emerged and the dense vegetation is now in piles several feet high, waiting to be removed from the area forever.
Once the entire cemetery is revealed, Mize said it will be his mission to keep it that way. He also plans to repair some of the headstones that are broken, straighten some that are toppled and attempt to figure out the identities of those buried there. Many, he said, are from the 1800s.
"There are babies, elderly people, and some are even from the 1700s," he said. "People have fathers, mothers, brothers, grandparents, great-grandparents buried here, and they've not been able to visit their graves."
The project wouldn't have been possible, Mize said, without the inmate work force. Their work, he said, has been "extraordinary," completing in just a matter of days what Mize thought would take weeks.
And the men seem to appreciate the work.
"They feel like these people are lost," Mize said. "And they want to give them back their resting place."
Torrance Johnston, 37, a member of the work force, said he enjoyed doing something with "some historical value."
"We can be proud of what we're doing here," he said during a brief break.
Fellow worker Jeff Johnson said he enjoyed the opportunity to "do right instead of wrong."
"We've got more pride in this," added Jason Bradford, 30.
"People can now come to see these things that were hidden before."
Using the inmate work force has reduced the cost of the project by about $3,500, something that "saves the taxpayers a lot of money," Mize said. When it's completed, Mize said, it will have cost the county only $2,000.
And as far as Mize is concerned, it's $2,000 very well spent.
"We're giving these people back their resting places," Mize said.
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