One hundred years ago this month, American soldiers were in the thick of the fighting at the Second Battle of the Marne and the Battle of Chateau-Thierry during the First World War.
A century later, conditions also haven’t been pleasant on the local front for a memorial honoring Surry County service personnel who died in that war.
A monument placed at Oakdale Cemetery which lists their names recently was struck by an alleged hit-and-run driver, knocking it off its foundation. Nearly two months later, the upended marker continues to rest unceremoniously on the grass just off North Main Street.
The same goes for a large headstone nearby at the graves of former city commissioners Charles Lowry and his son Frank, which also was damaged during the incident on May 17.
Based on information from a website dedicated to commemorative landscapes in North Carolina, the World War I memorial — a granite structure 4 to 5 feet tall — was dedicated on July 4, 1936 by local Jesse B. Jones Post 123 of the American Legion.
That post is named for one of the 30 military members who are listed on the monument as making the “supreme sacrifice” during the war in 1917-18. Jones died on Sept. 29, 1918.
The present condition of the memorial has prompted concerns among citizens, including Craig Edwards, who spoke about it during a public forum at the last meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners on June 21.
Edwards, who lives in Troutman but has family ties locally, said he was aware that the marker had been struck by a vehicle. “But that shouldn’t be lying on the ground,” he added while indicating that this is a disservice to any family members of those whose names are listed and veterans in general.
“That monument is very important.”
Other concerns have reached the ears of municipal staff members.
“I have had a lot of calls about it,” said Grounds and Maintenance Supervisor Michella Huff, who manages Oakdale Cemetery. Huff added that she has heard the World War I memorial was involved in another auto accident during the 1990s.
Legal questions loom
The fact that the monument has not been re-positioned after nearly two months is not due to any lack of motivation, city officials say, but liability issues surrounding the collision.
Just as doughboys coped with mustard gas, barbed wire and mud during World War I, the memorial honoring local men who died in that conflict has become mired in legal entanglements.
This is not because of being unable to find the driver involved in the incident. In fact, Bradley Dean Holder, 20, of 124 Quesinberry Lane, has been charged with hit and run/leaving the scene involving property damage. Holder was traveling north on North Main Street when the 1986 Chevrolet he was operating left the roadway and struck the war memorial along with grave stones.
Yet that’s not the whole story.
“There is some dispute as to whether or not Mr. Holder had permission to use the vehicle,” Police Chief Dale Watson said. “It was registered to another individual, so there’s some dispute there.”
“The question now is was the automobile stolen, or used without permission — or with permission?” said Mayor David Rowe.
The vehicle involved is said to be a pickup, although the city police accident report does not indicate the style of the auto. The report lists its owner as Benjamin Hensley of Mount Airy and that damage to the vehicle was estimated at $2,500.
“It looks like an insurance problem,” Mayor Rowe said of the confusion involved with determining liability for the damages to the cemetery fixtures and who exactly will foot the bill for that. No estimate has been announced.
Chief Watson said the issue could be resolved through one of multiple ways. In addition to being settled through an insurance claim there could be a civil remedy available.
Also, when the hit and run case is tried, Holder might be ordered to pay restitution to make repairs at the cemetery as a requirement of probation or other punishment handed down. He is scheduled to appear in Surry District Court on Aug. 28.
With so much uncertainty surrounding such scenarios and the length of time needed to reach that point, there is movement among city leaders to undertake the repairs sooner.
That possibility is expected to be discussed at a meeting this Wednesday of the city cemetery trustees, a five-member group that oversees Oakdale which includes the mayor.
“We meet quarterly,” said Huff, who works closely with the group.
In the meantime, the police chief said he understands any concerns harbored among veterans regarding the war memorial — “about having it in its present condition.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.