Rest in Peace

Published 7:22am Wednesday, May 29, 2013

AHOSKIE – Not much is known about Wilbur Earl Myers, other than he was a local native who served his country in the US Navy during the Vietnam War.

Myers died May 11, 2001 at the age of 56. As is the case with the majority of those brave men and women serving in the military, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) provides headstones and markers for the graves of veterans buried anywhere in the world. Flat bronze, flat granite, flat marble and upright marble types are available to mark the grave of a veteran or dependent in the style consistent with existing monuments at the place of burial.

Due to the service given to his country, Myers qualified for such a marking at his final resting place – Highland Memorial Gardens located just south of Ahoskie. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Myers’ grave was never properly marked….that is until just recently.

When burial occurs in a cemetery other than a national cemetery or a state veterans cemetery, the headstone or marker must be applied for from the VA. It is shipped at government expense to the consignee designated on the application. The VA, however, does not pay the cost of having the marker attached, in the Myers’ case, to a granite stone.

Myers’ marker was approved and shipped by the VA. Over the past 12 years it has sat inside the Highland Memorial Gardens office. Cemetery officials there have waited patiently for a Myers family member – someone, anyone – to step forward and take care of having the marker attached to a small slab of granite.

“I came to work here after Mr. Myers passed away,” said Jo Farmer, the current manager of Highland Memorial Gardens. “I noticed a military marker, an engraved bronze plaque, in the office, but I originally thought it was some sort of display to show family members what a marker looked like.”

Farmer said when she came across the interment form of Myers, she realized that marker was supposed to be on his grave.

“I contacted the family by phone on at least three occasions, leaving a message each time about the process of paying to have the marker attached to granite,” she said. “To date I have not heard back from the family.

“We have never ignored this marker, nor did we ignore Mr. Myers’ service to this great country,” she added. “Simply put, we cannot put that marker, or any marker for that matter, on a grave unless it’s attached to granite. It bothers me when a grave isn’t marked, but our hands are tied when it comes to these types of situations. We have to follow procedure.”

Farmer said the cost of performing that task in 2001 was roughly $200, which includes long-term care. Today, she said that cost is between $700 and $800.

It took the efforts of a group of Myers’ Vietnam comrades to have the bronze plate attached to the stone and placed at his grave.

Although he never met Myers, Skip Hatch also served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He was honorably discharged in 1974 as a Petty Officer, but later rejoined the Navy in 1987 and wound-up serving during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. On the morning of Feb. 18, 1991 an Iraqi contact mine exploded on the starboard bow of the USS Tripoli, an amphibious assault ship then on duty in the Persian Gulf. The explosion ripped a 16 by 20 foot hole in the ship’s hull and injured four sailors, to include Hatch.

Hatch, a Boston native, now resides in Elizabeth City. He serves as president of Chapter 631 of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“This all came about back in February when we were contacted by a lady, whose mother is buried here in this cemetery, who told us about Mr. Myers not have a marker on his grave,” Hatch said. “We started working on getting something done, taking in some donations. My wife spent two days baking for a bake sale we held, one way we used to raise money.”

The funds generated by the group were sufficient to pay to have the bronze plate affixed to the granite and placed at the head of Myers’ grave.

“We got together and rode here today to give him a proper send-off by his Vietnam brothers,” Hatch noted. “We were able to line-up a VFW honor guard to join us here. It was a nice ceremony.

“He was one of us, a Vietnam veteran,” Hatch continued. “That’s what bothered me the most, the fact that a veteran of that war never had his grave properly marked until today. It always seems that Vietnam vets get the shaft, one way or another. We went through enough in that war. We deserve the respect our brethren from other wars received. Mr. Myers deserved that respect. What happened here today was the way it should have been done back on May 11, 2001.”

Hatch said this marked the first time Chapter 631 had performed such a task.

“We attend and pay our respects at the funerals of our comrades and we take part in Veterans Day and Memorial Day events, but this is the first time we’ve done something such as this,” he said. “I really didn’t know how to pull this off, but we got it done. We didn’t do this to get credit; we did it to right what we thought was a wrong.”

Hatch said the basis purpose of Chapter 631 was working with veterans to ensure they follow all procedures when it comes to their military benefits.

“We try to take care of veterans and their families if they have any major problems,” he said. “We’ve helped out by paying their electric bills when they’re down on their luck; we’ve helped a guy get his car repaired…those types of things.”

Chapter 631 is home to 28 members. If Myers were alive today, that number would perhaps grow by one.

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