A patio and staircase apparently built out of military gravestones at a property in southern Missouri has sparked a firestorm of criticism on social media.
Navy veteran Ed Harkreader of Mountain Home, Ark., posted photographs of the arrangement on Facebook last week. The post triggered scores of outraged comments and was shared thousands of times.
“This isn’t the way you should use military headstones,” Harkreader told the Post-Dispatch in a telephone interview Monday. “This is disrespectful of military veterans.”
Harkreader, 55, said he served in the Navy for 22 years. He said he heard about the use of the stones from a friend and drove the short distance from his home in Arkansas to the property in Ozark County, Mo. The property is near Lake Norfork just north of the Missouri-Arkansas line.
Harkreader took pictures and tried without success to reach the property owner. His photographs show a patio and staircase fashioned from what appear to be military headstones, some with the names of veterans and spouses clearly visible. A check of Internet grave services indicates that some of the stones were for grave sites in California, Alabama and Texas.
Chris Erbe, a spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration in Washington, said officials heard about the matter from Harkreader’s Facebook posting. The inspector general’s office of the Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating the report, Erbe said.
It’s not clear where the stones came from. Markers are sometimes inscribed with errors or typos and are supposed to be destroyed. Often stones are replaced rather than re-inscribed when spouses die and are buried at the same location. Older military headstones sometimes are replaced, Erbe said, but the old stones are supposed to be destroyed.
“They are not to be used for any kind of home improvement project,” he said.
The markers in Harkreader’s photos appear to be relatively new, with several showing death dates in the 2000s.
Harkreader’s posting drew numerous angry replies, some of which suggested solving the matter violently. Harkreader said he was distressed by those comments but wanted the stones removed and properly disposed of.
Grave markers have shown up where they don’t belong before. Last month a former employee of the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery was arraigned in federal court, accused of theft of government property for taking discarded grave stones and using them to pave his carport, according to media reports. Authorities suspected he had been taking them home a few stones at a time over several years.