Doing right by each veteran

S. Deerfield woman creating gravesite inventory

Recorder/Paul Franz
Betty Hollingsworth of South Deerfield, seen here in Laurel Hill Cemetery at the grave of Sgt Gregory Belanger, is cataloging all the veterans graves and memorials in  Deerfield.

Recorder/Paul Franz Betty Hollingsworth of South Deerfield, seen here in Laurel Hill Cemetery at the grave of Sgt Gregory Belanger, is cataloging all the veterans graves and memorials in Deerfield.

SOUTH DEERFIELD — During the early morning hours, Elizabeth “Betty” Hollingsworth of South Deerfield can be seen counting flags and medallions between rows of the abundant veteran graves in the historic town cemeteries.

The 84-year-old is creating an inventory of veterans buried in Deerfield and the wars they served in from World War I to the Persian Gulf War.

The project is an outgrowth of the town’s Memorial Day Committee annual flagging of the veterans graves, an important tradition the town does to honor fallen soldiers. And it follows the committee’s popular veterans signs project, in which they marked the home streets of 24 local people who sacrificed their lives in World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. The signs were placed above the street signs where the soldiers grew up and engraved with the town seal, the servicemen’s rank, branch of service, name, the notation “KIA” for “killed in action,” the date of death and the country and war where he was killed.

The town flag fund supports new American flags for fallen veterans’ graves. Each Memorial Day, the committee, along with the Veterans’ Post 3295, Frontier Regional School National Honor Society, Deerfield Academy students, and former graduates of the Deerfield High School, scour the local cemeteries, placing small flags beside headstones in honor of America’s soldiers.

They also place small medallions on the graves, marking the wars the soldiers fought.

Last year, as usual, the group went out on Memorial Day to decorate the soldiers’ graves. But Hollingsworth later returned to 15 more graves she discovered they had missed. It took her two weeks to find each grave and flag them all.

Hollingsworth’s project will make sure no other graves are missed again.

It’s the first project of its kind in Deerfield.

The inventory will help create a plot plan to let the town know how many flags and medallions are on the correct graves. The plot plan will eventually go up on the town website.

The cemeteries include town maintained sites, such as Laurel Hill and Sugarloaf Street cemeteries to unmarked burial sites beside Savage Farm in West Deerfield.

“It gives us the flag count and brings the medallions up to date. It will make short work of flagging the cemetery,” said Hollingsworth. “We’re doing what’s right by each veteran.”

This summer, Hollingsworth and a group of five Deerfield women started at Brookside Cemetery, plotting veteran graves and double-checking medallions.

One problem Hollingsworth sees with medallions is they are often mismatched — the soldier will have the wrong war listed on his medallion. Often, Hollingsworth will switch medallions, but sometimes when there are more mismatches the work is long and difficult.

By inventorying the cemeteries, Hollingsworth will make sure each veteran has the correct medallion.

The project is all volunteer with no funding.

Not surprisingly, Hollingsworth, a committed community volunteer, is leading the project herself. She has lived in Deeerfield since she was 2 years old and has been a long-time advocate for honoring veterans. She was a Recorder Citizen of the Year and also the United Service Organization’s Pioneer Valley Volunteer of the Year for 2012.

She also serves on the Historical Commission, a group of volunteers who have worked to restore the town cemeteries using community preservation funds.

It was Hollingsworth who did much of the research for the veterans’ sign project, tracking down the history of each fallen soldier. She will again track down the history of buried veterans in Deerfield.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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