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Family fighting for headstone for WWII veteran

  • Portrait of Wesley Bonham who served on the U.S.S. Suwannee during World War II

He fought for his country in World War II, but Wesley Bonham’s sacrifice didn't earn him a proper resting place at a Missouri veterans' cemetery.

Officials at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery told Bonham's surviving family members that if they wanted to replace the flat marker at his grave site with a free-standing headstone, they would have to pay to have the remains dug up and moved to another section, despite a mandate passed years ago by Congress that entitles every fallen vet an upright stone.

“We would never disturb his grave,” Bonham’s daughter Weslene Prevallat, of St. Louis, told FoxNews.com. “We thought that since they passed a law making the headstones mandatory, that there wouldn’t be an issue.”

“[Cemetery] officials told us that we would have to move him to another section. They should [simply] replace the stone. It’s the right thing to do.”

In June, Prevallat sent a letter to the director of Jefferson Barracks pleading with them to replace all flat markers with the upright marble stones.

“My family and I have been very saddened with the decision of the VA to not elect to remove these unsightly flat, gray markers and replace them with the upright white marble headstones…the very SAME white marble headstones that are placed on thousands of military grave sites throughout the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and in the many other government cemeteries,” reads the letter.

Prevallat also maintains that many of the grey markers, including her father’s, are damaged from lawnmowers and slanted and sunken.

"They should replace the stone. It’s the right thing to do."

- -Weslene Prevallat

“The section has not been maintained properly over the years. Probably because no one knows the grave sites are there,” Pravellat quipped.

A few days later, she received a response from Jeff Barnes, Cemetery Director for the Department of Veterans Affairs which operates Jefferson Barracks.

“It is our intent to honor every person who is buried in this national cemetery, regardless of the style of marker used, and to care for each grave with fitting dignity. We have recently completed a renovation project for all flat markers,” the response reads. “However, your loved one may be disinterred from a flat marker section and moved to an upright headstone section. In that case, you are responsible for the cost of disinterment.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs referred to a law enacted in 1986 that made upright headstones mandatory for interments in new sections of national cemeteries, but also permitted the continued use of flat markers in sections where they were already place.

“The use of flat markers implies no disrespect to a veteran’s memory,” the spokeswoman said to FoxNews.Com. “In fact; there are other national cemeteries where veterans groups and families have advocated the continued use of flat markers in new sections.”

Upright grave markers would add about 2 feet in length to each grave site, because their weight precludes them from being placed over the actual grave due to stability issues.

Pravallat said her congressman, Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., has pledged to bring this issue before the house.

“I asked Democratic Leadership to assign me to the Veteran’s Affairs Committee because I believe we owe a sacred debt to those who died to preserve this nation, and because those Veterans who are still with us deserve our utmost respect and service,” Carnahan said in a written statement to FoxNews.com. “My staff always works hard to ensure that we address any concerns regarding Veteran’s issues, including our National Cemeteries. I will work with my staff, the VA and the Bonham family to make certain we do everything possible to honor their wishes.”

Prevallat made clear that she hopes this will help other families in a similar situation.

“This just isn’t for my father. This is for all the veterans buried there with a flat marker,” She said. “If no one speaks up on this, then nothing will get done.”