The Cape May County Veterans Cemetery was established in 1980 as a final resting place to honor the local men and woman who have fought for our freedom. But if you ask World War II veteran and Avalon resident John Fallon, the current condition of the cemetery is far from honorable.
"It's terrible," said Fallon, a member of the American Legion Post 331 (Avalon/Stone Harbor.) "It's unpruned and untended. There are planters by the entrance that are filled with weeds. There isn't any shrubbery. Go to any other cemetery, and there are scrubs and things to make it look nice. Go to ours, and it's as if it was created and just completely forgotten about."
The Cape May County Veterans' Cemetery is located on Crest Haven Road off exit 11 of the Garden State Parkway in Middle Township, just north of Cape May Court House. Other issues with the cemetery include a tattered American flag, broken equipment in the cemetery kiosk that helps the public locate particular graves and cracked walkways and monuments, he said. The dire condition is made more apparent when comparing the cemetery to the scenic Cape May County Park & Zoo, both of which are overseen by Board of Chosen Freeholders.
"It could be a beautiful place with a great view out there over the bay, but instead it's desolate," Fallon said.
Fallon brought the issue to the attention of his American Legion Post in June, and the post in turn wrote a letter to the Board of County Freeholders.
On Sept. 4, Freeholder Gerald Thornton held an informal meeting at the cemetery with members of Post 331 and other local veterans organizations to discuss possible improvements. Members of American Legion Posts 331 (Stone Harbor/Avalon), Post 184 (Wildwood) and VFW Post 5941 (North Wildwood), VFW Post 955, VFW District 17, Vietnam Veterans and Marine Corp Vietnam Veterans, County Administrator Ed Grant, Director of Facilities and Services Ann Marie McMahon, Services Division Manager Michael Owen; Director Veterans' Bureau Virginia Tomlin, Veterans' Internment Officer Charles Adelizzi and Thornton attended.
Thornton, who is a veteran, said he agrees with the need for improvement, and as the newly appointed director of facilities and services, will oversee the project.
"To be honest with you, I've been wanting to refurbish the cemetery for the past 10 years," he said. "It's more than 30 years old now, and it needs a lot of work."
He said county officials have since made a visit to the Atlantic County Veterans Cemetery to get ideas, and they are open to any suggestions.
"I'm a veteran, and I'm very supportive of all of our veterans groups, so they have my support and always will," Thornton said.
Targeted improvements will include landscaping, monument repair, grave settling, irrigation, possibly adding in benches, replacing a tattered American Flag and fixing the kiosk. The latter two issues will be addressed immediately, Thornton said.
Fallon said at the close of the Sept. 4 meeting he asked that a 10-year plan be created, but he wasn't given a complete response.
"As it is, I'm not satisfied," he said. "Once the changes are made, then I'll be satisfied."
American Legion Post Commander of Post 331 Ted Ramsey said he's hoping the community will back them up and request that improvements are made.
"The more the community gets involved, the more the Freeholders will be compelled to do something about it," he said. "We deserve a nice backdrop to pay respect to our veterans."
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