The Alberta branch of the Last Post Fund held a ceremony on Wednesday to honour local veterans who lay in unmarked graves at the Mountain View Cemetery in Lethbridge.
“The Last Post Fund was established in 1909, and it’s a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that no veteran at the time of death is denied a dignified funeral, burial and headstone for lack of insufficient means,” said volunteer Glenn Miller.
Through the organization’s unmarked grave program that began in 1996, Miller says around 3,500 unmarked graves — either blank plots of land or those with very little information — have been identified and given a military headstone.
“These headstones, because they’re installed by the Last Post Fund, will be permanently maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada forever,” Miller added.
For the last 12 years, Yvonne Sugimoto has been volunteering her time to research and get unmarked graves approved for the military marker.
Altogether, she says she has successfully helped install 107 headstones worth about $2,000 each, with 50 more approved and waiting to be installed and another 37 that have been submitted but are awaiting approval.
She is continuing to identify military veterans, saying the process is worth the effort.
“Some of them (were) very easy — within days. Others it has taken me eight or nine years to get everything attached and put together,” Sugimoto explained.
“I have a list of everyone buried in the cemetery, and I’m going through the death registers and matching up when they died with when they were born, and if it looks like they might be in the right age category, then I start looking for their obituaries and military records.”
A total of 18 headstones are coming to the communities of Lethbridge, Raymond, Taber and Fort Macleod. Miller says it’s hard to predict a timeline for their installation, as it depends on shipping schedules for the manufacturer in Regina.
“These people were willing to fight for our country, and we should remember them,” Sugimoto said.
In the hopes of recruiting more volunteers like Miller and Sugimoto, the Last Post Fund launched the Lost Veterans Initiative this past winter.
To encourage future researchers to participate, a how-to kit is sent to them and assistance is provided by provincial branches.
“Recruiting new researchers who wish to honour veterans is key in upholding the act of remembrance,” Randy Brooks, chair of the sub-committee Unmarked Grave Program and vice-president West on the LPF governing council, said in a news release.
“The rewards a researcher has when a veteran grave is permanently marked with a headstone gives a great sense of pride for the past military service, sacrifice and commitments these great Canadians have made in the defence of Canada.”
The following is a list of veterans awaiting their headstones in southern Alberta:
William Roy Carver (1911-1996), Thomas Marienus “Tom” Dogterom (1920-1984), Joseph Thomas Patrick Ferguson (1894-1960), Thomas Samuel Hunt (1880-1954) & Jessie Benson Hunt (1880-1954), Steven “Steve” Kravets (1894-1962), John Rufus Lowther (1894-1956), John Dirk Roelofs (1910-1984) & Mary Mildred (Mannen) Roelofs (1909-1985), Cleason Schweitzer (1889-1951), Samuel “Sam” Vere (1886-1950), John Cyrus Wrightt (1893-1983), Edward Eldon Ellingson (1914-1982), James Leper Milne (1885-1956), Edward Davies (1875-1965), James Hugh “Hughie” Campbell (1896-1954), George Percy Dixon Ferguson (1883-1929), William E. Ferguson (1883-1962), John Purrier “Jack” Griffin (1897-1973), and Richard John Sherlock “Jack” Vandersluys (1910-1993).