At first glance, and even up close, the Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Civic Center Drive in Augusta doesn’t clearly indicate that servicemen and women are buried there.
That’s something that always struck members of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Association as unfortunate, said Gary Lawyeryson, the group’s chairman.
When the Civic Center Drive cemetery was nearing capacity at the beginning of this decade and a new lot was created on Mount Vernon Road, the volunteer group saw an opportunity.
“We wanted people to have no doubts that veterans are buried there,” Lawyeryson said. “It’s important for the families and everyone else that visits.”
It has taken a few years, but the veterans group that is solely responsible for the aesthetics of Maine veterans cemeteries has begun plans for a 7-foot memorial statue near the entrance to the graveyard on Mount Vernon Road.
The memorial will be modeled after the battlefield cross, an indelible image dating back to the Civil War of a rifle, helmet and combat boots arranged to look like a cross.
“We’ve already contacted an art company that will do this for us,” said Michael Clark, treasurer of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Association. “Now, all we need is the money.”
The veterans organization hopes to raise $25,000 to purchase the statue and another $5,000 for a granite base. Fundraising has only just begun, but Clark hopes more interest is generated over Memorial Day weekend.
“Whether it’s benches, flowers, flags or whatever, when you do something for veterans it has to be nice,” Clark said. “They had a small [battlefield cross] at the State House, and we liked the look of it, so we thought, why not have one at the cemetery.”
Lawyeryson, a former Marine and a Vietnam veteran, said he remembers the image of the battlefield cross from his time overseas.
“We [made] some [of the crosses] partway through our tour, kind of all at once,” he said. “Everyone came up and said their final goodbye. It’s important.
“But then you have to continue on. You can’t sit and dwell on it, or it will be you there next time.”
Now that their time in battle has passed, members of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Association said they feel a strong desire to ensure the sanctity of veterans’ burial grounds.
“Our organization is self-funded, so we can only do so much,” Lawyeryson said. “But we want to encourage people to visit veterans cemeteries and have a chance to reflect or pay respects. We thought a monument would be fitting.”
Ceremonies are being held today at both veterans cemeteries in Augusta. The Civic Center Drive event will be at noon and the Mount Vernon Road lot will hold its event at 2 p.m. Directions are available online at www.maine.gov/dvem/bvs/central.htm.
More information about the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Association and its fundraising efforts also can be found online at www.mevetscemetery.org.