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When it rains, these veterans' graves in Raleigh turn to muck

News & Observer - 1/5/2021

Jan. 1—RALEIGH — A chest-high red brick wall surrounds the Raleigh National Cemetery with its perfectly lined rows of simple white tombstones that identify the resting places of thousands of veterans who served as far back as the Civil War.

Much of the 7-acre cemetery is a grassy expanse, except for the southeast corner along Bart Street. That's where the wall may be also unintentionally functioning as a dam.

There doesn't seem to be a single blade of grass covering the 30 or so graves there. On Wednesday, it was a sea of mud.

That corner is the lowest point in the Southeast Raleigh graveyard, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and when it rains, the water collects.

John Drescher, a former executive editor at The News & Observer who is now a national editor for the Washington Post, saw how bad that corner gets during a bike ride on Christmas Day. It had rained the day before. Water covered about three dozen graves, he said.

The following Monday he biked by there again. The water had subsided some, but it still covered a dozen graves. He tweeted a photo to the VA that night.

"@DeptVetAffairs," he tweeted, "These graves at the SE corner of the Raleigh (NC) National Cemetery have been covered in water for 5 days. @USACEHQ (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) could fix this."

He hadn't received a reply. The N&O contacted VA's offices in New Bern and Salisbury and VA headquarters in Washington to ask about the drainage problem. On Thursday, a spokesman in Washington said in an email response the VA will fix it.

"The referenced section of the cemetery was recently identified as having a drainage issue, and we are currently coordinating with our district engineers on a repair project for completion in Spring 2021, that will prevent flooding from happening in the future, said Les' Melnyk, who is chief of public affairs for the VA'sNational Cemetery Administration.

He said in the interim, cemetery staff will pump out manually in that area as needed.

"We are committed to honoring our Nation's heroes by providing perpetual care and the highest level of grounds maintenance in all of our National Cemeteries," Melnyk said.

Akileh Frett, the foreman at the cemetery, said in an interview Wednesday at the cemetery that drainage has been a problem at that corner at least since he began working there a couple months ago. He said a supervisor called him Tuesday asking that he take pictures of the corner to send to New Bern.

Tierian "Randy" Cash, the department adjutant for the American Legion'sNorth Carolina Department, said he was not aware of the flooding until a reporter shared photos. He said the drainage needs to be fixed, and he was satisfied with the VA's response.

"It sounds to me that they will take appropriate action," he said.

Legion staff will keep an eye out to make sure the work gets done, he said.

Drescher appreciated the VA's response.

"I'm glad the VA is on the case," he said.


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