Veterans continue mission of restoring unmarked graves

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IMMOKALEE, Fla.- Monday marked the last time members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7369 met at Lake Trafford Memorial Gardens.

For the past few years, WINK News followed the grave detail as they cleaned up the veterans’ section of the cemetery.

On Memorial Day 2014, broken markers, mounds of sand and bricks were scattered about the cemetery, but today it’s a much different picture.

“It’s a good feeling, it really is,” said Ed Swank.

The grave detail found 99 unmarked graves at the cemetery but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits anyone but the veterans’ family from applying for a marker. So the grave detail had to put in the work and put up the markers themselves.

“I don’t know what was tougher… the heat, the sand and the weeds or the federal government,” said Ed Messer.

This Memorial Day was unlike any other as the veterans’ VFW post along Bayshore Drive in Naples prepares to close. Rent is high and the VFW has lost about $2,000 a month after a statewide crackdown on gambling machines in so-called strip mall casinos.

Yet the brave men say with or without a post, they’re committed to finishing the job at the memorial gardens. They still have 29 markers to put up so the men buried there will not be forgotten.

“There’s nothing worse than serving your country and then being abandoned,” Messer said.

“These are the heroes,” Swank added.

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