VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - It was a cemetery long forgotten, the resting place of warveterans hidden behind dense vegetation.
And Don Mize, the Harrison Township trustee, couldn't stand itanymore.
Helderman Cemetery is unknown to most. Until recently, its agedtombstones were buried in a small cluster of trees just off Indiana61 outside Monroe City.
When Mize learned of its existence, all that could be seen wasan old wooden sign marking its location. He vowed to uncover it byMemorial Day to honor the veterans that lay beneath the stones.
"Out of respect for our vets and the people who have loved onesburied here," he said. "These graves haven't been visible foryears."
Buried in Helderman Cemetery, according to a plot done in 1940,are at least eight veterans, dispersed amongst dozens ofgraves.
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 Warveterans, J.L. Hewitt and John Meyers, along with two AmericanRevolutionary War veterans, Alvin Perkins and Jonathan Weton.
At least four other veterans are said to be buried there, buttheir identities aren't known, Mize said.
Mize is treating every tombstone with care, slowing cutting awaythe 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 workforce. Crews have been weed-eating, cutting down trees, raking andremoving brush. And after several days of work, tombstones haveemerged 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 hismission to keep it that way. He also plans to repair some of theheadstones that are broken, straighten some that are toppled andattempt 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 the1700s," he said. "People have fathers, mothers, brothers,grandparents, great-grandparents buried here, and they've not beenable to visit their graves."
The project wouldn't have been possible, Mize said, without theinmate work force. Their work, he said, has been "extraordinary,"completing in just a matter of days what Mize thought would takeweeks.
And the men seem to appreciate the work.
"They feel like these people are lost," Mize said. "And theywant to give them back their resting place."
Torrance Johnston, 37, a member of the work force, said heenjoyed doing something with "some historical value."
"We can be proud of what we're doing here," he said during abrief 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 hiddenbefore."
Using the inmate work force has reduced the cost of the projectby about $3,500, something that "saves the taxpayers a lot ofmoney," Mize said. When it's completed, Mize said, it will havecost the county only $2,000.
And as far as Mize is concerned, it's $2,000 very wellspent.
"We're giving these people back their resting places," Mizesaid.
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