BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — We in Kern County like to think we appreciate our veterans — and there’s plenty of evidence we do. But many would be shocked to learn that more than 400 graves belonging to Kern County veterans are unmarked. They’re just patches of grass where those who served rest in anonymity.
Well, this Veterans Day one Bakersfield cemetery set out to begin rectifying some of those monumental oversights.
At Greenlawn Southwest Cemetery on Panama Lane, as at most any cemetery, it’s common and understandable that visitors might not know better than to walk across someone’s unmarked final resting place. If that seems inappropriate and wrong, consider that some of those graves might belong to veterans.
Greenlawn Southwest is trying to change that, and it’s starting with the unmarked graves of 13 Kern County veterans.
The cemetery, in cooperation with VFW Post 97, arranged to etch and deliver granite headstones for 13 Bakersfield-area veterans just in time for Veterans Day. Operation Headstone, they called it.
Greenlawn unveiled them with all the pomp and circumstance one would expect for such an occasion — pomp, circumstance and ear-splitting noise. There was a battlefield cannon, a seven-gun salute, a helicopter flyover, and a Revolutionary War-era band.
More than 200 veterans, veterans’ families, well-wishers and dignitaries were on hand Wednesday morning for the ceremony revealing the headstones. Also unveiled: A new “freedom” flag pole — made official with the first unfurling of the Stars and Stripes, which will be plainly visible from nearby freeway 99.
Jim La Mar, president of Greenlawn, said he’d like to see other Kern County cemeteries participate in Operation Headstone for their veterans in unmarked graves.
“I just think that it would be amazing if one day this is a national program that’s spread throughout the country.,” La Mar said. “And the cool part is — Bakersfield loves their veterans — that it started in Bakersfield. To me that would be so awesome.”
It’s an important undertaking, says Dr. Wil Flickinger, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and a veteran who served during the Berlin Crisis, a 1961 Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union.
“We have this country because of their protection and giving their lives, ” he said, “and we need to never forget.”
Thirteen Bakersfield veterans, laid to rest years ago, have now been acknowledged on Veterans Day.