The Widder Curry: My Visit to Fort Rosecrans Cemetery Two Years Later

by on August 15, 2014 · 2 comments

in Culture, History, Life Events, Ocean Beach, The Widder Curry

Ft Rosecrans National Cemetery, Aug. 9, 2014. All photos by Judi Curry

Note: After visiting the cemetery on Saturday, August 9th, 2014, we three widow’s were sorely disappointed in what we saw – or didn’t see, two years later. I sent this article to Doug Ledbetter, the Director of the Ft. Rosecrans and Miramar Cemeteries so that he would be aware of what I was going to write. He called me this morning – Monday, August 11th, and we discussed the conditions I have mentioned in this article. His comments to  me are in italics and indented next to our concerns:

Two years ago – August 21, 2012 – I wrote my first article about the deplorable conditions of Ft. Rosecrans Cemetery. The cemetery has special meaning to me because my husband is interred there, and it will be my “home” when I leave my Pt. Loma home. Over the past two years I have written several follow-up articles about the grounds and have complimented the “new” director, Doug Ledbetter on returning the cemetery to its “pre-2012” standards.

I don’t know if it was “karma” but yesterday I received a call from Doug asking me if I had been up to the cemetery lately. I had not, but told Doug that today three of us were going to visit our husbands on Saturday because it has been a long time since we have been there.

Ft Roscerans 8-9-14 jc flowrsI told him that we were looking forward to the improvements we expected to see, and I would let him know our thoughts the first part of the week. (It is only fair to tell you, dear reader, that I sent a copy of this article to Doug before I sent it to my editor-dude. Why? Because Irene, Candy and I were so disappointed in the condition of the cemetery I felt I owed him an opportunity to know our feelings before he saw it in print.)

For the life of me I cannot understand what is taking so long to make the cemetery a prism of beauty as it used to be.  The scenery – the Pacific Ocean on one side of the road and San Diego Bay on the other are truly wonders of nature.

Who cares if the headstones are not perfectly lined up anyway?

Aligned headstones show the utmost honor, and dignity. Think of military members in formation. They are aligned with one another, and walk in step with one another, etc. Proper alignment also enhance the ascetics of the cemetery. When most people talk about a National Cemetery, one of the first things they mention are beautifully aligned headstones.

A small earthquake will probably “adjust” the headstones and they will be out of kilter again. When Bob first died – five years next month – the widow support group that I belonged to would go up to Ft. Rosecrans and have a picnic. We would sit under the trees, talk about the past, and in spite of the purpose for being there, would come away with a lightened spirit and a degree of serenity around us. Not so today.

In the first place, many of the trees are gone. In fact, there is no tree that we can sit under near our spouses niche’s any more. They were supposedly removed because they were dying. (This was before Doug’s time as the Director, one year ago today.)

The grass that died because of faulty sprinkler heads purchased in China, was no better looking today than it was two years ago. Dead spots all over; dead flowers left underneath the niches that looked like they had died weeks ago; piles of rocks blocking the roads; still impossible to drive around the road leading to our men and safely exiting the area.It’s been over two years and it is as bad as it was in 2012.

Doug told me that the rocks were placed where they were because to have them near the retaining wall where they are being used could cause a traffic nightmare. They have been placed further north so that they are not taking up driving space from those visiting the cemetery.

We are in the middle of a drought and yet there is a faucet leaking water all over the grounds. Someone put a vase under the faucet to catch the drip, but it was full and overflowing.

Doug said that not too long ago he directed one of his workers to check for leaky faucets. This one was either not leaking at the time of the inspection or it was overlooked. He will send someone out today to check on it.

Areas that had been renovated looked like they needed to be renovated again. There were not any “beautiful” areas that we could see, but we only drove on the east side of the cemetery because that is where our men are interred. But why the dead grass everywhere?

Doug told me that ” . . . . the grass is not dead. It is ‘stressed’. He said if some water was put on the grass it would grow and turn green again. “

My question to Doug was . . . . why hasn’t that been done?”

Doug told me that the NCA (National Cemetery Association) had their “irrigation guru” out last week and is checking on the grounds because it might be necessary to do soil testing of this particular area because there seems to be some deficiency that is not affecting other areas of the cemetery. There is also a program in process where they are training the groundsmen in the proper care of the cemetery grounds.

Why haven’t the headstones been aligned yet? Why is some of the area newly dead, awaiting a realignment? Why are there no trees to sit under; no benches to sit on for grieving relatives and friends? Why are there grass cutting all over the place and not picked up? Why weren’t the dead flowers picked up and discarded?

The contract to complete the cemetery grounds has been extended to the two contractors doing the work. It was supposed to be completed by May, 2014, but the deadline was missed for a variety of reasons.

Ft Rosecrans 8-9-14 jc rocsThis is in addition to the groundsmen that are responsible for keeping the areas clean. If there are too few people to keep it clean hire more people. If the people responsible for cleaning it up are not able to do so, hire someone that can. It seems to me that the May date was an extension of other dates that the work was not completed. How many extensions are there going to be given before the job is finished?

Doug told me that an assistant has finally been hired for him.

It’s about time. He’s been there a year and can’t do the entire job himself. And, he is also in charge of Miramar which recently opened. There is no question that he has worked day and night on restoring the cemetery, but it is impossible for one person to handle two large cemeteries.

Miramar has had some of the same difficulty as Ft. Rosecrans, but it is new and those problems are expected. Ft. Rosecrans is an old and established cemetery. One does not expect it to look worse than an newer installation. But the terrible disappointment affected the three of us.

We suspect that millions of dollars has been already spent on fixing up Ft. Rosecrans. Yet, the work is not completed and is not as inviting as it was just a few years back.

Is it because the cemetery is now closed to new internments? (Spouses are exempt from this, because we already have our “reservations.”)

In the meantime, don’t expect to go to Ft. Rosecrans for Labor Day and see a nicely manicured, well trimmed cemetery. It just ain’t going to happen. Yes, it is being “worked on”, but let me remind everyone that the same contractor, the same crew, etc. has been “working on” it since before my first article in August of 2012. It is obvious that the inhabitants of this valuable piece of property are not going to “stand up and protest.”

Doug can’t do it alone. Lord knows that he has tried and perhaps with help from an assistant the success will become more apparent. Two years is a long time to wait and it isn’t completed yet. But Doug says it is well on its way to completion and should be completed by the end of the year.

One additional piece of information that I was not aware of that Doug told me about is that the cemetery is a place of honor, and hallowed ground. Recreational activities are not permitted in order to maintain our cemeteries as National Shrines. Just as an FYI, picnics are not allowed on cemetery property. It is technically a fine-able offense according to the 38 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations).

Those of us visiting the cemetery to be with our loved ones need to be aware of this law. I can hardly visualize a group of people celebrating the life of our loved one being arrested for having a picnic on the grounds, and to my knowledge there has never been an arrest there before, but I guess the hope of the widows having a bench or two to sit on or a tree overhead to keep them cool may only be a figment of our imagination, although Doug is working on having trees replaced on site.

On behalf of the families whose veterans are interred at Ft. Rosecrans, I want to thank Doug for his interest, his concern and respect for the loved ones that reside there. He truly has made a difference in what was two years ago and what is today. It just needs a little more work to get it back to the shrine it used to be. In the meantime, he will have help in obtaining the goals and objectives that he set forth one year ago today. And, I am sure, much to his chagrin, I will be there to help him make sure that the goals are met.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Susan Taylor August 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm

I dunno. In spite of the author’s wish to inspire the new guy, on balance it doesn’t sound like much has actually been accomplished in one year. Sorta sounds like medical care at the VA to me – feds really aren’t paying attention to the volume of needs in many realms of the veteran experience. That is shameful. Un aligned markers and stones sound pretty messy. Surely we can do better, for men and women who served, their family members and the public who honor their service.

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avatar Scott September 24, 2014 at 3:24 am

Apparently Mr. Ledbetter is leaving if not already gone by now. His job as Director was advertised on USAJobs.gov last month so the VA is looking for a replacement. In just over 2 years this will make 3 different people in charge there. Sounds like they need someone who knows more about facility maintenance and managing contractors. Calling in an “irrigation guru” sounds like the locals do not know whats going on. I visited Mike Monsoor’s grave in July and saw the ongoing rock wall construction. The contractor only laid about 3 stones in the hour I was there.

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