Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Albany National Cemetery, Indiana

For any number of reasons, I've always felt a special connection to United States National Cemeteries.  Usually referred to as "Military Cemeteries," these green spaces are the final resting places of millions of American veterans and their spouses.  This is a brief photo tour of the one located in New Albany, Indiana.

Aerial view, "courtesy" of Bing maps.
The New Albany National Cemetery is interesting in that it is one of the originals, with development beginning in 1862.  While it now sits in the middle of a neighborhood, this certainly wasn't the case when it opened.  A lot of "new" cemeteries in my experience, then as now, are located about thirty minutes "away" from the center of town.  Thirty minutes by horse, foot, or car places them towards the edge of a community, while still making the trip reasonable.  The exception to this rule seems to be church cemeteries, which are sometimes fairly close to the town center.

These signs always get me.  The irony is painful.

Plaque from the New Albany Historical Society.  They say it best.
The cemetery's rostrum, an outdoor speaking platform for commemorations.  All of the National Cemeteries that I have been to have one of these.  The one in New Albany is better than most, honestly.  Note the row of headstones in front of it.... 

This is one of the stones located in front of the Rostrum, that of Col. Paul Johns, missing in action in Laos.

Paul Frederick Johns went missing in 1968 over Laos when his A-1H Skyraider plane was shot down.  While the US is very dedicated to recovering the remains of the fallen, sometimes these efforts fail.  Over 83,000 servicemembers are still missing from the "modern" US wars, World War Two to the present.  JPAC, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command is tasked with carrying our searches for those still unaccounted for, and their efforts have brought closure for hundreds of families.

For more information on Col. Johns, click here.  Hopefully he comes home soon.

Mass grave of an aircrew shot down in World War Two.
Another feature of these older cemeteries is the "mass" or "communal" grave.  Despite the best efforts of the Graves Registration Service in World War Two, it was often simply impossible to identify the remains of individual soldiers or airmen.  As a result, all of the recovered remains were placed in one grave that shared a common headstone.  I've seen such graves that contain twenty of more men.  In the days before DNA testing, there was little else that could be done. If you have further interest in the topic, I recommend "Soldier Dead" by Michael Sledge.

The grave of Edmond Webb, of the "United States Colored Troops," a segregated branch of the Union Army.  The marble has worn away heavily over the years.  The VA makes an effort to replaces heavily eroded stones, as seen below.
The replacement stone of Andrew McNary, still noting his position in the segregated army of the time.
Two civil war graves, showing the home state of each man.
During the Civil War, there was a large emphasis on one's home state, something that is largely lost in today's society.  This is why headstones like this are marked with KY or IND, it was an important identifier of community.  Even today, soldiers at the Gettysburg National Cemetery are buried by state of origin, grouped in prearranged plots.

Units were largely composed of men from a single state or area, and a truly devastating battle could have the unintended effect of killing most of the young men of a city or county.  Perhaps the clearest example of this was the "University Grays," 135 men who enlisted from the University of Mississippi who enlisted together at the start of the war, nearly the entire school.  During Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, the unit suffered almost 100% casualties, destroying a generation men in the process. 

One of two large coastal guns, placed upright in the cemetery.  They appeared to be plugged with cannonballs.
Cannon plaque, with (dated) information about the cemetery. 
The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are represented in the cemetery as well.  Spc. Wilcox was one of three men from the Minnesota National Guard killed when their outpost was hit by a rocket attack.  He was 27 years old.

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  1. My ancestor, Jacob Bleam/Blem of Ohio was a civil war soldier and is buried in the New Albany cemetery. If I were to visit, is there a roster showing location of the grave? Phyllis Robb

    1. I did a search through the Veterans Administration site and no one by that name is buried there. However, there is a "Jacob Blern" buried in section B, spot 1269. He is listed as a Pvt from the Civil War. I will get out there again one of these days and take a picture and email it to you. Until then, here is a map that shows the cemetery. Graves are more or less in order by number, so it should be quite easy to find.

  2. Just got back from visiting the old man, Norman R. Elkins SFC US ARMY US NAVY WWII KOREA VIETNAM, with today being 25 years. Brian K. Elkins I served US AR FORCE PERSIAN GULF but I will be enterned in Radcliff national cemetary.