Veterans Day has been celebrated in the United States since 1954, but it was known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day since Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th a Federal holiday in 1919. On this Veterans Day 2014, the Masonry of Denver would like to celebrate the men and women who served the United States in times of war and peace. I am especially grateful for the service of my grandfathers, uncles, and cousins; my father-in-law; and many friends. Thank you all for your service.
So how does masonry play into the lives of American veterans? A walk through any military cemetery will give you a hint. Every man and woman who serves in the United States military is eligible to receive a free military grave marker from the Department of Veterans Affairs, regardless of where they are buried. The VA issues both flat cemetery markers and upright head stones. The flat markers, which are installed nearly flush to the ground, are available in marble, granite and bronze. Upright headstones are available in marble and granite.
Marble is by far the most common military headstone marker, and the military only uses Danby marble quarried from Vermont. It is an exceptionally pure, white stone, and is readily available due to a large vein of marble of varying quality that runs up the east side of the Hudson River from Manhattan to the Canadian border. Vermont marble is typically a very high quality, white or whitish gray marble, while the marble historically quarried in upper Manhattan and southern Westchester County is a granular, lesser quality pinkish tan stone. The quality of the stone improves the farther north one travels up the Hudson River.
VA-issued upright grave markers are 42 inches long, 13 inches wide and 4 inches deep, though the depth of their installation varies. The veterans markers in the photo above appear to have been set several feet into the ground. Inscriptions typically carved into headstones by the VA include the veteran’s name, rank, location of service, the war or wars in which he or she fought, the branch of the military in which he or she served, and the veteran’s birth and death dates. Families may purchase additional inscriptions if there is room on the grave marker. Finally, each veteran may have a symbol of their faith carved into the top portion of the grave stone. Very few religious symbols were available, such as the Christian or Catholic crosses in the photo above, but over the years the VA has extended their recognized emblems to include 61 religious symbols.
Cemeteries all over Colorado have markers noting the grave of United States veterans. I came upon three large areas for military memorials in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver several weeks ago when I visited. The one closest to the cemetery entrance marks the graves of the Colorado Volunteers. The monument itself is made of a gray granite with a bronze statue, but the grave markers arrayed in a circle around the monument are all white marble. You will notice that their inscriptions are raised letters in a recessed shield. This indicates the graves of veterans who served during the Civil War or the Spanish-American War, or during peace time before World War I. Most of these grave markers represent veterans of the Spanish-American War.
A second military memorial, called the Garden of Honor, sits just northeast of the Colorado Volunteers memorial. The Garden of Honor is simple and elegant, with upright marble headstones arranged in a circle around the United States flag. All of the headstones face inward toward the flag, as opposed to the Colorado Volunteers memorial, whose headstones face outward.
The third military memorial at Fairmount Cemetery commemorates Lieutenant Frances Brown Lowry, who served in World War I and died when his plane was shot down over France in 1918. The Lowry memorial marks the graves of members who served in Lowry’s battalion, as well as other veterans of World War I. The memorial, created in 1921, is made of a light granite with a bronze dough-boy statue.
Once again, we would like to thank all of the men and women who have served the United States military.