Friday, November 27, 2020

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A mission to find the forgotten on Memorial Day

On the last Monday of May, graves of veterans were decorated across America. Due to physical distancing standards, many Memorial Day observations were muted or foregone altogether. Yet, 245 new flags were carefully placed at the Holy Cross Cemetery this year.

The cemetery’s maintenance building was demolished years ago, and with it, all the records. As a widow of a veteran, Janita Smith made it her passion to make sure no one who served would be forgotten. Smith is no stranger to volunteerism as the founder of the Colusa County Food Basket Association. She is also a member of the Catholic Ladies Relief Society.

It took two years research and networking by Smith to make sure all veterans were accounted for.

“She went every day,” said Bobbie Jo Seaver, Smith’s sister who assisted with the project. “If anybody moved during the night she would notice.”

Smith enlisted 11 women who helped her to strategically comb the cemetery. Teams assigned to four sections of the cemetery would systematically write down pertinent information from each plaque.

Smith’s research consisted mainly of networking, “If anybody came into the cemetery, I’d ask, ‘Do you have a veteran here?’ So that’s how we got our names.” She also checked at the library and utilized information from the Diocese of Sacramento’s records, which were kept up to the year 1994. Smith then cross-referenced information from the VFW with the help of Richard Paletta, Colusa County VFW Post No. 2441. Paletta also happened to work at the cemetery, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who kept meticulous records and maps of the cemetery, which were all destroyed with the maintenance building.

Smith’s research discovered graves of veterans that spanned back to the Civil War, the time from which Memorial Day originated. During the Civil War, Americans would hold springtime tributes to fallen soldiers and decorate the graves.

As if by divine intervention, the cost of the flags was $1 less than what the Catholic Ladies Relief Society had budgeted for the project.

“It was a challenge and it felt good,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to miss anybody.”

Smith wants to make sure every veteran is accounted for, and encourages anyone that knows of a veteran buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colusa to call her at (530) 458-4877.

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