Zumbrota Cemetery among those to have veterans' markers stolen

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This is an example of a veterans’ marker left untouched at the Zumbrota Cemetery. Over 30 markers are known to have been removed from gravesites at the cemetery. The theft was first noticed May 10th when five stars were found along the walking trail adjacent to the cemetery.

By Marilyn Anderson

ZUMBROTA – Several area Memorial Day preparations and observances this year were marred by the thefts of veterans’ markers at cemeteries. Zumbrota was among the communities – that also included Cannon Falls, Frontenac, Vasa, and Oronoco – to have been hit by thieves who snatched the brass rods with the mounted ornamental stars from the gravesites. The incidents were first reported in late April and continued into May. 

May is typically a busy month for Frank Aunan, Commander of Stary-Yerka VFW Post #5727, with preparations for the Memorial Day observance and the annual Field of Honor held over the same weekend in Zumbrota. What he didn’t expect was the follow-up to the theft of more than 30 veterans’ markers at the Zumbrota Cemetery.  

Aunan became aware of the incident after Erik Hostager, of Zumbrota and son of a veteran, came into the VFW on Saturday, May 10. Hostager had found five veterans’ stars along the walking trail, adjacent to the west side of the cemetery. Since that time, Zumbrota Police Chief Gary Selness said a total of 32 stars have been found. But Aunan said, “We might still find more. And who knows, some may have even been tossed in the river.” 

The stars, engraved with “Veteran” are affixed to  two-foot long brass rods that are placed in the ground at the gravesites of military veterans. Throughout the year, Aunan keeps a list of veterans’ deaths and in early spring, sends a request to the Goodhue County Veterans Officer. An appropriate number of rods and stars are received to have on hand ahead of Memorial Day when flags are also placed at the gravesites. The county receives the ornamentation and rods from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

In addition to Zumbrota Cemetery, VFW Post #5727 also oversees duties for five other area cemeteries for veterans. No missing markers have been noted at the other locations.

Aunan has contacted the supplier in Ohio for the cost to replace the stolen rods and damaged stars. The cost for one ornamental, detailed star and one brass rod totals $27.90, with the majority of the cost for the star. Shipping costs are additional. With the thieves apparently just taking the rods and presumably selling them for less money than the $4.50 per rod purchase price, Aunan asked, “Is it (stealing) worth it for that amount of money? The stars are pretty incriminating, so they are broken off and left behind.” The service markers have a mounting on the back to accept the rod and a flag dowel. Brass is an alloy made of copper and zinc. 

Aunan has been weighing the pros and cons of other options that may be less expensive and/or not as attractive to thieves. Aluminum rods would be less expensive but more easily damaged by weed whackers and lawn mowers. Steel would be durable, but prone to rust over the years. Another thought has been to see what a company such as Custom Iron could do - perhaps a coating over steel that would be durable, yet attractive.

While unable to have the markers replaced in time for Memorial Day 2014, Aunan said “We are determined. I’m sure we will get help.” Word of the loss has begun to travel and as of May 22, he had already begun receiving notifications from family members of veterans who had checked loved one’s gravesites to report missing markers.

Aunan welcomes being contacted with names of where service markers were stolen. Matching of deceased veterans’ names against the cemetery directory, followed by checking the actual sites for missing markers, will be a tedious task. Announcements were being made at the Field of Honor Ceremony on May 24 and Memorial Day, May 26. 

If you visit the Zumbrota Cemetery and find a marker is missing, call the VFW office at 732-5411 or Aunan’s home at 732-7227. Leave a brief message, stating the veteran’s name and a phone number for returning a call. You will be contacted to obtain additional information.

Selness said law enforcement agencies in Goodhue and Olmsted Counties have been notified of the thefts and of a suspect in the case after a recycling center reported rods being brought in.



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