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In response to the recurring theft of veteran grave markers throughout Burlington County, Freeholder Ryan Peters and the County Department of Military and Veteran’s Services hosted a summit of the victimized cemeteries, local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and other veteran advocate organizations yesterday evening at the County Department of Human Services Building in Westampton to collaboratively discuss how to stop theft in the future.
In September approximately 375 veteran grave markers were reported stolen from the Sacred Heart Cemetery and Brotherhood Cemetery in Hainesport, Mount Holly Cemetery and Mount Moriah Cemetery in Mount Holly, and the Evergreen Cemetery in Lumberton.
The markers are traditionally brass rods, about two feet long, with a symbol to indicate the war the veteran fought in and a holder for a family member or friend to place an American flag. Thieves cut the emblems off the top and sell the metal.
During the meeting, Freeholder Peters, a Navy SEAL who saw multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve, announced that the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders will fund and distribute new grave markers to replace the ones that were recently stolen.
Going forward, with the support of the veteran’s community in the county, the veteran grave markers will be purchased without brass, making them less desirable for theft.
“As a veteran, I am speechless at the callous disrespect for the graves of my fellow brothers and sisters in the military. These grave markers are meant to show gratitude for the veterans who served this great country with honor,” said Freeholder Peters.
“It is disheartening we have to resort to using an alloy instead of brass, however, I have comfort knowing family members visiting the remains of a loved one will soon see a new grave marker and flag, as they always should,” added Freeholder Peters.
Every year the Burlington County Department of Military and Veteran’s Services provide the funding for about 800 veteran grave markers and delivers them to cemeteries throughout the county.
Last year thefts were discovered at the Lakeview Cemetery in Cinnaminson and Odd Fellows Cemetery in Burlington Township.
Freeholder Peters, the victimized cemeteries and veterans also discussed exploring the potential for signs at the cemeteries warning thieves that they will be prosecuted and increased police patrols, while urging County Prosecutor Scott Coffina to pursue the maximum punishment allowed by law to anyone caught stealing veteran grave markers.
“These actions last year and this year stab at the heart of our community. Burlington County is home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and more military personnel than any other county in the state,” added Freeholder Peters. “Yesterday’s meeting was a first step towards preventing future theft from occurring. I will continue to do all I can to stop this from happening again.”