Scout identifies military graves

Burials at cemetery in New Jersey go back to the Civil War era

April 23, 2001|By Evonne Coutros | Evonne Coutros,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. - Shortly before Memorial Day, American Legion members place U.S. flags on the graves of their fallen comrades at Valleau Cemetery.

But they knew that their quiet tribute missed the graves of some veterans in the 33-acre cemetery.

"Every year we knew more and more veterans were buried at Valleau and that even some of the older stones were not marked too well," said American Legion leader Wayne Morrison. "Some graves go back to the Civil War. Quite a few of us always wondered if all the veterans were getting flags on those graves."

Last year, after the flags had been placed for the holiday, Morrison bumped into the answer to his problem: 17-year-old Andy Haderthauer, a junior at Ridgewood High School.

Haderthauer, a Boy Scout, was attending the village's Memorial Day observance with his father, Scoutmaster Walter Haderthauer. When he heard the details of the problem, the Scout proposed that he apply his computer skills to find a solution.

About 130 hours of work later, he had done it.

Last year, only 350 graves at Valleau were known to be the resting places of veterans. Now, double that number have been identified through Haderthauer's efforts.

Flag for a hero

The project gained Haderthauer recognition as an Eagle Scout and the gratitude of the daughter of Master Sgt. Charles Ernest Hosking Jr. - a winner of the Medal of Honor. Hosking, a 24-year Army veteran, was awarded the military's highest decoration after he was killed by an explosion in Vietnam in 1967. He jumped on a Vietnamese prisoner who was about to set off a grenade, protecting his men from the blast.

"I live in Texas, so I wouldn't even know if my father was getting a flag all these years on his grave or not," said Jane Brazil, Hosking's daughter. "That flag does say a lot. It says they've not been forgotten and their sacrifice has not been in vain.

"What this Eagle Scout has done is just spectacular," Brazil said. "I think of all the vets that are overlooked and are buried in little graveyards. This will help assure that more vets are honored."

Start of something big?

Indeed, Morrison, who last year became commander of American Legion Post 53 in Ridgewood, sees a broader application for Haderthauer's work beyond Valleau.

"Andy has set up a system for us and I think it can be the start of something for all American Legion posts," Morrison said. "If this is not the first then it is one of the first lists to be computerized for the buried veterans."

Haderthauer said his project was all about respect. "A lot of people weren't receiving flags for the service they provided for our country, and they need to be recognized," he said.

Morrison, a Korean War veteran, said the list of veterans was so old that even fallen soldiers from his war were being overlooked.

The Legion used what could fairly be described as a low-tech system for noting the graves of veterans. It consisted of "seven plywood boards in the shape of sections of the cemetery," Haderthauer said. "On top of the boards are worn-out paper [sheets] with the names of the veterans and the plot numbers. A lot of those names are illegible and you can't read the plot numbers. ... We just had to computerize the whole system."

Morrison said the boards may date to 1938 - with the last upgrade done in the 1950s.

With the help of Valleau Cemetery Superintendent Guy Kostka, Haderthauer began his project in August. First he put the board names on the computer list, then set out on a tour of the cemetery, looking over some gravestones that date to the early 1800s.

He enlisted the help of some buddies and fellow Scouts, saving him days of walking the graveyard alone.

Three months later, Haderthauer had made up his list, and then used software to display the information by name and plot number.

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