Friday, July 06, 2001

Ohio Guard requests duty: Repair Hillcrest Cemetery

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ANDERSON TOWNSHIP — An internal study showing the Ohio National Guard is willing and able to help renovate neglected Hillcrest Cemetery is expected to reach Guard officials in Columbus today.

        The Guard's year-long study of erosion problems at Hillcrest — resting place of 1,388 veterans, including 849 African-Americans denied burial elsewhere because of racism — shows the project fits the key requirement: it mirrors their military-readiness training.

        Hillcrest, which fell into disrepair since the 1980s because of a lack of ownership, has a powerful advocate in Ohio's capitol.

        Gov. Bob Taft recently wrote a letter urging National Guard officials in Arlington, Va. to approve the Ohio Guard's plans.

        “I ask for your assistance in expediting the process and in favorably considering its approval,” Mr. Taft wrote to Lt. Gen. Russell Davis. “Time is of the essence as with each passing day the overall state of Hillcrest continues to decline.”

        The cemetery, on 14 hillside acres on Sutton Road near Coney Island, was incorporated in 1926 and listed as defunct Aug. 5, 1991, because its owners failed to re-register. About 700 non-military people are buried there, and the land was never technically a veterans cemetery.

        Erosion has caused headstones to wash away and graves to be exposed. But because the cemetery's owners were listed as two dead men and a defunct association of Union Baptist Church, no one wanted to claim Hillcrest and take on the costly restoration.

        The Ohio Guard probably can't assist in headstone restoration, but fixing the landscape is “right up our alley,” Capt. Neal O'Brien said Thursday.

        “This is a chance for troops to do something that mirrors their training,” he said. “It's also a great sense of pride. That's one of the things about Hillcrest that's been appealing all along. It's the right thing to do.”

        Building retaining walls and reshaping land is similar to what Guard units have done for years, including during the Persian Gulf War. The Guard constructed miles of tank ditches and berms in Iraq, called the “Saddam Line.”

        The Ohio Guard estimated total renovation at $1.6 million for a commercial entity. But actual cost to the Guard, which already has ready labor and equipment, is about $685,000, Capt. O'Brien said. Work at Hillcrest would be financed through the Guard's federally funded Military Innovative Readiness Program.

        No time frame is set, though Mr. Taft urged the National Guard to approve the plan quickly to take advantage of summer weather.

        Meanwhile, the Hamilton County probation department continues to assign offenders to mow Hillcrest as part of community service.


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