Grave Matter

Late in the day on Tuesday, October 13, I stopped by the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery to visit the grave of an old friend. As I entered the side that faces the ocean, my jaw dropped. A large backhoe and other earth-moving equipment stood silently over large sections of torn-up ground. Stacks of removed headstones and grave markers stood near large piles of dirt and deeply dug trenches. In other areas, the grass had been completely removed, leaving gravestones surrounded by bare earth.

Assuagement came in the form of a sign that explained what was going on: “We are in the process of raising and realigning grave markers and headstones…. No graves will be disturbed.”

Later on, I telephoned the number on the sign and was eventually transferred to Kirk Leopard, the cemetery director. He explained that gravestones eventually become misaligned, both vertically and horizontally, due to settling and the occasional earthquake. Every ten years or so, he needs to send a crew out to realign them. This time, however, a different method is being used.

Following guidelines established by the American Battle Monuments Commission, a trench is dug and a long concrete beam is poured. Then concrete boxes are mounted in it, which form slots that the original gravestones can be placed into, leaving about an inch on each side. The gaps are filled with decomposed granite, sort of like gravel, which holds the marker securely in place. After the grave markers are reinstalled, the trenches filled in, and the grass replaced, the cemetery will be as beautiful as it was before, except the headstones will no longer shift or move over time.

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