May 18, 2009
58 flag-draped, wooden caskets await burial at Southern Arizona
Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Photo: Arizona Department of Veterans Services
(Sierra Vista, Arizona) -The remains of 58 soldiers from the Civil and Indian wars who died in the Arizona Territory were reburied Saturday, May 16 at the Southern Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista. Their burials came two years after the remains were dug up in downtown Tucson to make way for a new court complex.
The remains were found in the area of Tucson’s first military cemetery. They were obviously left behind when the graveyard was relocated in the late 1800s.
During excavation of the site in 2007, some of the soldiers’ remains, along with a few full skeletons were found. Due to lack of DNA, positive identification was not possible, but the names of those buried at the cemetery were located in historic documents and will be included at the new burial site.
The remains belonged to soldiers who were part of a brigade that marched into the Arizona-New Mexico territory from California in 1862 to confront Confederate troops. Various units were stationed there until 1866.
Other remains represent the 1st, 3rd and 6th U.S. Cavalry regiments, as well as the 8th 21st and 32nd U.S. Infantry who served at Fort Lowell during the late 1860s to the 1880s.
A convoy of motorcyclists and two Army trucks bearing the remains made the slow journey from Tucson to the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery. A special area within the cemetery was created for the burials.
More than 120 local soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines along with a contingent of Civil War re-enactors gave a final salute.
Joe Smith, 69, a Civil War reenactor and a former Army reservist, volunteered to build the dozens of wooden coffins for the remains after learning that the soldiers would be buried in their cardboard storage boxes.
"They have served our country with acts of patriotism that should be remembered forever," Gov. Jan Brewer said during the funeral.
“With this nation engaged in two wars this service sends an important message to our men and women in uniform,” Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services Director Joey Strickland said. “We will not forget those who serve us!”
Fittingly, the troops’ remains were laid to rest on Armed Forces Day under American flags with 35 stars, representing the 35 states in existence when many of the soldiers served.
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs provided military gravestones resembling those used in the 19th century.
Remains without a military affiliation are being buried elsewhere, mostly in and around Tucson. Some remains have been claimed by local Indian nations.
Sources: Arizona Department of Veterans Services, Sierra Vista Herald, Arizona Daily Star, azstarnet.com