Just in time for Memorial Day, crews have restored the 240 five-foot-tall white crosses that mark the graves of World War I veterans in Hamilton’s Greenwood Cemetery.
On a recent sunny morning this week, grass of the cemetery, showing a seasonal renewal of its vibrant green, created a beautiful contrast with the freshly painted snappy white of the crosses, which stand in a silent semicircle in the World War I section of the burial ground.
The cemetery’s white and gray gravestones stood in a quiet Hamilton oasis of bird and insect sounds, separated a bit from traffic sounds and sirens in the surrounding city.
“The crosses are made of concrete, and they were starting to deteriorate,” said David Shanteau, consulting general manager for Greenwood, which on Memorial Day will host a post-Memorial Day Parade ceremony remembering fallen veterans of the nation’s wars.The World War II section will host the Memorial Day ceremony around 11:15 a.m., and officials have urged the general public to attend after the parade.
“We resurfaced with concrete all of the crosses that were falling apart, then pressure-washed each one, and stripped all the old paint off, and then went through and painted each cross again.”
“Then we ordered stencils of each name from our engraver, and we re-painted each name,” Shanteau said. The materials cost about $1,200, he said. “This is the first time it’s been done in 10 years, that I’m aware of.”
“The county paid to do that,” said Caroline Bier, executive director of the Butler County Veterans Commission. “That’s important to keep these areas of the cemeteries that are dedicated to veterans, to keep them maintained.”
An important part of that upkeep is communication among government agencies, service organizations and others, she said. For example, often, the service organizations are the first to notice a need for repairs.
“It took a crew of three guys two weeks,” Shanteau said, calling it “a good sign of team effort, because the men cared.”
He said he guesses that the crosses were installed 30-40 years ago.
A podium at the center of the semicircle also was redone and repainted. Even as today’s generations are less personally connected with the World War I veterans, “I would say we have weekly visitors to that section of the cemetery.”
The crosses offer a solemn reminder of the weight of war on those who serve.
“You get a feeling as you walk through of what these men experienced,” Shanteau said. “It’s interesting and honorable that we can memorialize these heroes. There may be many, many more buried in that section that don’t have a cross. There’s just 240 identified in that section.”
Near the WWI section is a building known as the Public Receiving Vault, which probably hasn’t been used since the early 1950s. That building contains 20 unused crypts, and the structure was used for memorial services, with caskets being placed in crypts until burials could take place.
“Someday, Greenwood Cemetery would like to restore that building, because it’s so unique, and so beautiful,” he said. “But unfortunately, we can’t do it at the moment, because the funds aren’t available. Many of those World War I burials may have originated in that building. It’s probably one of the oldest buildings in the city of Hamilton.”
There also are Civil War veterans buried in Greenwood, which was founded in 1848.
“We have military burials each week,” Shanteau said about the 48,000 buried on 96 acres, which are about half full. “Cremation increases the life of a cemetery.”
Those who are cremated can be buried, occupying less space in the ground, he noted.