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Wednesday marks the signing of the Armistice that ended WWI 91 years ago. We now celebrate that day as Veterans Day. Military veterans across the United States will bear their uniforms and be honored for their courageous service. Some who lost their lives will be honored in different ways here in the Ozarks. The Commander of the Branson-Hollister Veterans of Foreign Wars realized some vets in the Ozark Memorial Cemetery were not being honored at all. KSMU’s Matt Evans went to the cemetery and files this report.
Reporter: “Right now I’m standing at the foot of the grave of Jerry Lee Taylor. He was an Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force in the Vietnam War. Taylor is just one of over 800 veterans buried here at the Ozark Memorial Park outside Branson, Missouri.”
“The service these men provided, these women provided to our country is worth remembering.”
That’s Kevin Mackey, the Commander of the Branson-Hollister Veterans of Foreign Wars.
As Mackey, his daughter, and I walk through the veteran’s section of the Ozark Memorial Cemetery, I notice that nearly every grave is adorned with a U.S. flag and flowers. As I bend down to look at some of the markers, I see the names of the veteran, his or her rank, and the dates of birth and death. Each marker is flat against the ground and has bronze lettering. In some cases, the spouse of the veteran is buried alongside. One veteran buried here was 30 years old when he died.
Mackey said the section that we’re walking through is reserved exclusively for veterans and their families, but there are still many other veterans buried throughout other parts of the cemetery - in fact, over 500 more.
For 15 years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Korean War Veterans would honor the veterans buried at the Ozark Memorial Cemetery by posting flags on their graves before Memorial Day. But Mackey said these organizations kept missing some veterans’ graves, so he compiled the Veterans Grave Records which has every veteran’s name, rank, military branch, conflict, birth date, death date, and grave location. Mackey said there were originally thought to be around 600 veterans buried in the cemetery.
“And my family took it upon ourselves, my oldest daughter, Amanda Mackey, and my wife and I, each would take a section of notebook and we would walk the line and write down the graves. Instead of 600 graves, we found out there were over 800 graves here.”
Mackey estimates that he and his family spent up to 400 hours working on the records book over the months of June, July, and August. Mackey, who is a pastor by profession and a U.S. Navy Veteran, credits much of the work to his daughter, Amanda Mackey, a senior at Branson High School.
“It became kind of interesting going through and seeing everybody’s names. When you’re just kind of walking around the cemetery alone writing down people’s names, you kind of start talking to them sometimes thanking them for their service even though they can’t hear you.”
Kevin Mackey says he hopes the book can be used for research.
“The information. I’m a big fan of information. For people doing research and things like that it’s a very valuable tool. For people that are doing genealogies, it’s something that is of much interest to them. Or simply people who are doing research on this area.”
Mackey donated copies of the 60-page Veterans Grave Records book to the Taney Hills Library in Branson, the Forsythe Library, the White River Historical Society, and the College of the Ozarks’ Lyons Memorial Library.
A veteran from every war since the Spanish-American War is buried in the Ozark Memorial Cemetery.
For KSMU News, I’m Matt Evans.