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Veterans rally to give cemetery much-needed makeover

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KFOX14) — A group of veterans and volunteers spent time cleaning the gravesites of fallen heroes in Dona Ana County.

The Dona Ana Cemetery was in need of some maintenance as several headstones and graves were hidden behind weeds.

The people who are buried there are veterans from Dona Ana County who fought in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

Veterans from the county, including Peter Stone, paid their respects by cleaning up the gravesites Friday.

“"We're in the historic village of Doña Ana Cemetery, a lost jewel in the desert Southwest,” Stone said.

The cemetery belongs to the village of Dona Ana, but has been neglected for years.

Peter Stone, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force, said it’s a shame to see the cemetery in such bad condition.

“We’re actually stepping on some of them as we speak. We don't know where they are out, until we come out to complete the grid,” Stone said.

Stone said the names of the fallen veterans will be added to the Veterans Memorial Wall at Veterans Park.

“They've been forgotten, but our job is to come out and honor them,” Stone said.

"They're smiling right now. They're not forgotten,” Stone said. “They're going to be remembered. Some of their descendants live here in Dona Ana. They've been out here and they pay homage, but I need the community’s help to come out and restore this cemetery one grave at a time.”

John Flores, who served in the U.S. Army, said he challenges other veterans to spend 30 minutes of their time honoring those who also served our country.

"They went through, excuse my language, through hell and I think it's time to be recognized and get them up there where they can shine,” Flores said.

The headstones and markers for each of the 75 graves have deteriorated over time.

Some of the graves only have rocks for headstones, while others can be found with GPS tracker markers.

Former New Mexico state Sen. Mary Jane Garcia worked with New Mexico State University and the Dona Ana County Historic Preservation Committee to make a GPS grid to help pinpoint where some of the veterans are buried.

"When you talk to me about veterans, they are right there in Doña Ana. Come and visit their tombs. Help us restore the cemetery so we can have a real memorial for them,” Garcia said.

Mary Jane Garcia holds a special place for veterans because she served right along with them in Vietnam, where she was a volunteer for the Red Cross.

Now she is working on honoring fallen veterans, after she and a committee of eight created a calendar dedicated to our local heros.

If you’d like a Dona Ana historical calendar, you can find them at La Posta in Old Mesilla, the De La O Visitors and Cultural Center or at the American Legion Post 10 in Las Cruces.

They are on sale right now for twelve dollars and all proceeds go towards funding the restoration for the Doña Ana Cemetery.

The De La O Center is at the corner of Derby and Gutierrez streets, just South of Our Lady of Purification Catholic Church.

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