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VA to replace damaged veterans' headstones at Mountview Cemetery in Billings

Posted at 8:23 AM, Sep 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-27 10:23:13-04

A police investigation of a weekend rollover crash into Mountview Cemetery in Billings has led to citations for reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and failure to report an accident.

The driver was the only one in the vehicle and was not injured, according to Billings Police Lt. Brandon Wooley.

The crash early Sunday morning damaged 29 headstones, which the Veterans Administration will be replaced as quickly as possible.

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Damaged veteran head stones at Mountview Cemetery.

"It was kind of multiple rows that were damaged and so some as early as the 1960s into the 1970s, so it was a pretty broad range," said Chris Waite, Mountview Cemetery supervisor. "It represented veterans who served as far back as World War I all the way up to the Vietnam War."

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Chris Waite

Waite described what he saw before the cleanup.

"You know it was kind of heartbreaking, especially because of the veteran stones, just to come in and see all the pieces," Waite said. "Some of them were just severely damaged in multiple pieces and kind of strewn throughout the area so I can't really describe the initial feeling. Just a lot of shock and sadness."

Waite said the initial thought was 32 stones were damaged, but it turns out that three were under a tree, so actually 29 need replacing.

"We kind of contacted the Veterans Administration," Waite said. "We had a lot of community partners help us advocate for our situation. They were very concerned just because of volume of damage."

When word got out about the broken tombstones, the cemetery started receiving phone calls from all over the country.

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"Especially for those not living in the area who couldn't check on the stones themselves," Waite said. "We fielded a lot of calls from as far as Florida from people asking if it was their family member's stones that were damaged."

And calls came in of people wanting to help.

"We just had numbers of calls from people asking if they could help donate to replace them or coming in and offering to clean up," he said. "Our community has a really great sense of appreciation for our veterans. And because it was veterans' tombstones, we had a great response."

There is a chance the stones will not be replaced in time for Veterans Day.

"We're really hitting that window where it's almost too cold for us to do stone installations," Waite said. "A lot of that slows down October, November. So if they arrive before that, there might be a chance to get them in, but it'll be difficult."

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Waite said there is no cost to the cemetery for the headstones, since the VA is paying for the replacements.

He says estimates have not come back for other damages, such as the entrance sign and a tree.