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From Vermont stone shed come markers for Arlington and other military cemeteries

WILSON RING
Associated Press Writer
Toby Talbot/Associated Press )A monument moves down the line at Granite Industries of Vermont in Barre, Vt., Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007, that will stand among the perfect rows of the rolling hillsides of Arlington National Cemetery. By far, most of the 2,000 to 3,000 stones carved each month by the workers from Granite Industries of Vermont belong to veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam or are replacement markers that can go back to the Civil War or the American Revolution. But with a saddening regularity, the names appear of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the 2001 attacks on the United States ushered in a new era of war. U.S. Army Cpt. Christian Skoglund was killed Nov. 8, 2007 in northern Italy after the crash of a U.S. Army helicopter. He served a year in Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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BARRE, Vt. – In a noisy stone shed, far from the perfect rows of gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery, a dozen people carve the monuments to a nation’s war dead.

Here, huge blocks of marble – some extracted from a Danby mine, some brought from the state of Georgia – are sliced into rectangular blocks by giant circular saws, the tops curved and then etched with the names of the fallen.

Most of the 2,000 to 3,000 stones carved each month at Granite Industries of Vermont are for veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, or replacement markers for graves that date to the Civil War or the American Revolution.

But with saddening regularity, the names are those of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed since 2001, most in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“Out of a regular order, we may get two to four from Iraqi Freedom in there,” said Robert McCallum, 37, of Williamstown, an Army reservist who served in Kuwait and works the marker line. “A lot of the people are younger than I am, some are 21, 23. You know, they haven’t begun to live their lives.”

When the stones are for young war casualties, the workers inevitably reflect on it.

“The guys that are on the line working with it, they notice it. They stop quite often and just think about the fact that these guys are younger than they are,” said Forrest Rouelle, vice president of Granite Industries, which has been doing business with the Department of Veterans Affairs for a quarter century.

The markers produced here go to national and private cemeteries around the country. There are other monument producers that shape veterans’ gravestones, but the ones for Arlington are all made here.

“The use of upright marble headstones in our national cemeteries dates back to 1873,” said Lindee Lenox, director of memorial programs for the Veterans Administration.

“These headstones, with their pure natural beauty and simple inscriptions, are the most recognized and revered symbol of our national cemeteries. Looking across a field of perfectly aligned marble headstones, one can’t help but be humbled and awed by the beauty, and what it represents.”

The Barre stone shed is the only one that produces markers for Medal of Honor recipients, distinctive because of the image of a five-pointed star etched into the stone and gold leaf in the symbols.

Linda Beaudin designs the stencils used to sandblast the names into the markers. On the wall in her office, she has pictures of two men posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor – Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, of Tampa, Fla., killed in Iraq, and Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue, N.Y., killed in Afghanistan.

She designed their markers and said, “They’re kind of special.”

The current stone design is 42 inches high, 13 inches wide and four inches thick. The inscription includes the name of the service member, along with rank and dates of birth and death.

With the passing of the World War II generation, the aging of Korea and Vietnam veterans and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, demand will continue for the markers and the tribute to sacrifice that they represent.

Polishing stones before shipment one recent morning, Benjamin Smith said, “We take a lot of pride in our job.”