Nearly seven months after work was completed to refurbish the veterans section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery, the section was rededicated Friday as a Memorial Day tribute to veterans.
Former City Councilman Randy Horiuchi described his walks through the cemetery, noting that he always felt someone should do something to fix the dilapidated headstones in the veterans section. He admitted that sadly, even as a councilman, he never did anything to change it.
A resident of Bountiful, Randy Pratt didn't just think the conditions were sad, "I was sick to see it the way it was. It was wrong," he recounted. Pratt had been coming to the cemetery every year with his family since he was born.
They have celebrated Memorial Day at the veterans section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery since his uncle, Earl C. Pratt, was buried there in 1958.
Each year Pratt noticed the tombstones deteriorating and sinking farther into the ground, until only his uncle's name was still visible.
Pratt, only one of thousands of visitors every year who visit that section of the cemetery, decided to do something about it. He sent a mass e-mail to every news agency and government official he could find an address for.
Pratt recounted the frustration he felt talking to members of city government. "Rocky Anderson's office said literally to 'kiss off,"' he remembered.
To Pratt's relief, KSL Channel 5 News contacted him, asking for an interview at the cemetery. He agreed, and the story was aired.
Craig Moyes, CEO of Onyx Construction, saw the news report. "It tugged at my heart," Moyes recalled, knowing he had to do something.
Together Moyes and Hank Gundry, superintendent of Onyx Construction, decided to make the difference. "It wasn't an undertaking, it was a privilege," Gundry emphasized.
They contacted Johnnie Janes, chairman of the Utah State Veterans Advisory Council, volunteering money, time and equipment to fix the headstones.
"It was deplorable how the headstones looked before," said Utah Veterans Affairs executive director Terry Schow. "It means so much to the families and to the veterans. We just can't thank them enough that they would take money out of their pockets to help such a worthwhile cause."
In August 2007, after more than $150,000 and at least three months of hard work donated entirely by Onyx Construction and several partner companies, the veterans section was completed.
"It was a small thing to do to commemorate these people," said Gundry.
Onyx Construction and the Utah Veterans Affairs Council agreed to wait almost seven months to hold the rededication on May 30, the original Memorial Day.
Local veterans, local government representatives, current military personnel, family members and contributors to the reconstruction all attended the ceremony.
Rick Graham, representing Mayor Ralph Becker, stated, "We have tried to maintain this cemetery, but because of our resources, we were unable to do so. We did the best that we could." He then thanked Onyx and the other contributors, promising that the city would maintain the new veterans section in its current beautified condition.As a rendition of "God Bless America" was played by Merrill Smith on the keyboard, the American flag caught the wind and set the mood for the following dedication and Native American Blessing, followed by a 21-gun salute and taps.