George Zehnder, a member of the local group known as Chester Grave Hunters, gave a presentation to Chester Township Trustees last week on plans to improve the annual Memorial Day ceremony and on informational signage honoring those killed in action and buried in township cemeteries.
“We named ourselves Chester Grave Hunters, only because it sounds cool,” Mr. Zehnder said at the Aug. 26 meeting. “We are trying to work with the Memorial Committee trying to put more flash and dash into the memorial service.”
Every year, the community is invited to attend the annual Memorial Day observance held at the Chester Township Cemetery located at 12701 Chillicothe Road in a remembrance service honoring fallen veterans.
Mr. Zehnder explained to trustees how the group is working with the Chester Memorial Committee on ways to bring more recognition to the township’s fallen veterans.
“They did one thing very graciously, they did put the veterans by the war that they served and got a little more historical perspective,” said Mr. Zehnder. “We want to have the cemetery settlements posted behind the names of the veterans who are in the old settlements behind it. Right now they’re by date and there are only a few that go up to 1812. Then all of them after that are buried in the regular Chester Township Cemetery.”
Mr. Zehnder said the group is trying to promote the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“We’re trying to put more focus on what Memorial Day is about – those who have been killed in the war,” said Mr. Zehnder. “Sadly, 12 were just killed today in Afghanistan.”
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May and became an official federal holiday in 1971, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
An organization of Union veterans established the holiday, then known as Decoration Day, as a time to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
“We would also like to have a salute to the fallen comrades and have the names that are buried in the Chester cemeteries,” said Mr. Zehnder. “We’re trying to get families and speakers in the area, and we want to figure out a way to get the crowd closer and also to sing the National Anthem a little bit better than just a solo.”
For those veterans killed in action during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 who are buried in the Old Settlement, Quirk and Archer Veterans’ burial locations, the group would like to include their stories on yard signs near the burial sites.
Mr. Zehnder told trustees that the Chester Kiwanis Club donated three Betsy Ross flags to be installed on telephone poles representing the eight Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Chester’s cemeteries in preparation for the celebration of America’s 250th birthday in 2026.
“This is getting ready for the 250th celebration of the United States in 2026 [on July 4] called USA 250,” said Mr. Zehnder.
Mr. Zehnder also showed trustees an example of signage to tell the individual stories of fallen soldiers and others who served.
“The whole idea about this is trying to tell their stories of service, not about themselves but about what they did,” said Mr. Zehnder. “For the earliest Revolutionary soldiers, a lot of them helped found Chester Township.”
Mr. Zehnder told trustees about a fallen Chester Township soldier who served during the 1960s and lost his life along with a young man from Detroit.
“He was buried, the sign shows right here, with the 199th Infantry Brigade, which is a very unusual brigade because it was the first really integrated Infantry Brigade,” he said. “They had the first black brigadier general in the history of the United States serving in that unit, so it’s a special moment in history and you can see that picture there.”
Both men were killed by land mines at the same time, Mr. Zehnder said.
Mr. Zehnder said the group would like to invite guests to stroll the cemetery and learn about the soldiers’ history.
With the assistance of the Chesterland Rotary, the group is planning a Memorial Garden as well.
“We’re excited to get this done,” said Mr. Zehnder. “We’d like to have your blessings and your Godspeed, it won’t cost you anything.”
Trustee Walter “Skip” Claypool who is also a rotary club member, said he was familiar with the group’s ideas.
“I am in full support with George and I’m a veteran, so I think it’s good and important to recognize our veterans,” said Mr. Claypool. “I think it’d be really interesting.”
The meeting was held on Aug. 26 at Chester Town Hall. The next regular trustees meeting is Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m.