DES MOINES, Iowa -- American flags are easy to spot this time of year at cemeteries across the country, honoring military veterans who have died. But it’s something people are not seeing in Des Moines that’s sparked outrage.
American flags beautifully line veterans’ graves at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Des Moines. But Jenny Hansen, of Slater, said her father was shocked at the condition of the grave stones on Memorial Day.
“My dad said it took him and my mom 35 minutes to find his parents and another 35 to clean the stones off so you could read the names and the dates of my grandfather’s service and branch of the military,” Hansen said.
She was so upset, she took to Facebook to share photos of some barely legible grave stones.
Walking through the Laurel Hill Cemetery, where numerous veterans are buried, it’s easy to see that veterans like Donald E. Nolte served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army and died in 1972. But less than two feet to the left, a veteran’s tombstone is unrecognizable.
“Some of them gave everything that they had for our country, and to see that this is how they’re memorialized and being honored, it’s disturbing,” Hansen said.
The city says for four years, a sign has greeted visitors, reminding them who’s responsible. The Des Moines Parks and Recreation Director Ben Page said city code, which follows state law, requires the department to maintain everything but the markers and monuments.
“Grass cutting, tree care, snow removal, water lines. Those things, but we are not responsible for the markers,” Page said.
Trina Gomez has several family members who served in the military and buried at Laurel Hill. She said she agrees with the city.
“The loved ones should take care of the stone. Nobody should mess with the stone except for the loved ones,” Gomez said.
Page said the department is always looking for volunteers to help out.
“Last year alone through our volunteer program, we found over 250 hours of volunteer care for veterans markers in all seven cemeteries because we know we didn’t have the money and legal responsibility to care for those markers, but we still wanted to help the veterans because they are important to our history,” he said.
But Hansen said that’s not enough.
“If this is the best they can do for an important day, that’s not good enough for the people. And it shouldn’t be good enough for the people in Des Moines," Hansen said.
The policy is the same for all seven Des Moines cemeteries.
A volunteer cleanup date has already been put together by volunteers. It's open to the public and will take place at Laurel Hill Cemetery on Saturday, June 11 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.