Larry Schmitz is a Bloomington, Minnesota, meter reader and military veteran who spotted something a little odd about the hardscaping at one of the properties on his rounds. The white stone along the driveway had a small code engraved on it. “After I put some more thought into it, it got to me, and I thought ‘This isn’t quite right,’” Schmitz said. So he investigated.
It turned out that the codes marked out the blocks as having once been headstones at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, although they had been cut down. When he realized what had happened, Schmitz notified the homeowners that they had the remnants of veterans’ tombstones on their property.
“I immediately called the VA,” said the property’s owner, Matt Varney. He recalls that the stones were there when he originally purchased the property in the mid-1980s. “I wish I could have realized it sooner, and they would have been gone a long time ago,” he said. “It’s disrespectful.”
John Knapp, deputy director of the cemetery, traced the two codes recovered, and found that the headstones in question had been replaced in 1971 and 1979. Headstones can be replaced if they are damaged, or if a stone needs to be redone because the spouse dies prior to the veteran. However, it is the strict policy of the VA to destroy stones onsite that are being replaced.
“We do that out of honor and respect,” said Knapp. “From time to time, we do find them and usually it turns out that they are from many, many decades ago.” For his part, Varney suspects that the previous owner of his property might have worked at the cemetery, and decided to take some stones for himself.
Preparations are being made to get them back to Fort Snelling.