In 2012 the Commander of Florida District 13 Veterans of Foreign Wars received a request from a young lady searching for the burial location of her grandfather. He was a deceased Veteran buried at the Lake Trafford Cemetery near Immokalee, Florida. The request for assistance was forwarded to Golden Gate VFW Post 7721, Naples, Florida.As requested members of Post 7721 formed a detail assisted by American Legion Post 135, Sons of the Legion, AMVETS, and VFW Auxiliary members. All the detail members are also grandfathers.
The VFW members arrived at Lake Trafford Cemetery to commence searching for Veterans’ gravesites. They discovered six visible gravesites and several others sunken into the sand below the grass line. The cemetery was not a site of military distinction but rather an old, neglected field. The aspect of a simple day searching for a single gravesite turned into dedicated Veterans determined to uncover and raise the forgotten, neglected graves. Members of the VFW are combat Veterans, we consider those who have gone before us as brothers, the gravesites of our brothers are sacred ground.
Further cemetery details separated into two groups; one group would search for gravesites and the second group, armed with shovels and rakes, would clean the cemetery restoring it to proper military order. Many more gravesites were located, a white picket fence was installed, a concrete bench was donated, while VFW members purchased and installed a flag pole.
In 2013 and 2014 VFW recon-order details were conducted with salutes on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Fresh American flags wereinstalled with VFW Medallions on each gravesite identified. More than 25 Cemetery Details produced identification of 94 gravesites, some dating back to WWI, with 44 needing headstones.
A search of Collier County records, in storage on index cards, provided information on the 44 gravesites needing headstones. The information was forwarded to the Veterans Administration. The VA responded in 2015 with 14 Government Headstones arriving in Collier County. Applications for 30 Veterans Headstones were returned for lack of information.
The determined Cemetery Detail was not to be deterred; determined to furnish the appropriate headstones for their fallen brothers. The Moose Riders and the St. Johns Knights of Columbus, North Naples, contributed donations. The VFW and other Veterans organizations conducted fund raisers and raffles. Hodges Funeral Home was furnished with the information necessary to ensure each Veteran’s gravesite would be properly identified and honored. Hodges Funeral Home was ultimately able to deliver 30 headstones to Lake Trafford Cemetery; however, the Veterans working the detail were from WWII, Korea and Vietnam;making it challenging to move headstones weighing 80 to 100 lbs. each. The Immokalee Fire Department came to the rescue providing a crew of strapping young men to unload, place and level the Veterans Headstones.
As restoration continued Immokalee High School JROTC Honor Guard performed Taps annually. White iodized metal crosses or Stars of David were attached to each headstone. New American flags standing proudly with new VFW Medallions were placed at each headstone.The dedication Cemetery Detail ceremony is Thursday, November 8, 2018, 10 AM.
The cemetery has now been designated as a Veteran’s Grave Location by the national organization of Wreaths Across America. The graves will be honored with a wreath laying ceremony on December 15th, the same date wreaths are laid at Arlington National Cemetery.
The VFW wishes to thank the members of the Cemetery Detail, the individual citizens making donations, including participating Fraternal organizations, for the money, time, and consideration donated. VFW Post 7721 salutes all of you.
Yes, the gravesite of the young lady’s grandfather was identified.