ANNVILLE — By Ken Long’s count, there are more than 2,000 Union Army soldiers buried in dozens of cemeteries across Lebanon County.
Those final resting places are not always easy to find.
“It’s a challenge,” said Long, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran from Palmyra. “You really have to go to the cemeteries and look. Many people today don’t know that they even have any Civil War ancestors.”
As a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Long has made it his mission to not only locate the graves but also replace stones where possible.
Through a little-known U.S. Department of Veterans Affair program, Long is able to receive free, official government replacement gravestones. The process involves a lengthy application and providing undeniable proof that an individual buried as long as 150 years ago actually served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
“I find much of the information through the 1890s census,” Long said. “The Lebanon County Historical Society, a lot of it is down there if you can find it, also the State Archives. Sometimes, you find an old published obituary, which mentions Civil War service, which is just about all the proof you need.”
To this point, Long has been able to make a case for 93 replacement stones made of granite and engraved with the name, birth date and date of death of the veterans. Eight of the stones are located at Evergreen Cemetery in Annville. Another 30 have been replaced at Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Lebanon. The remainder are scattered at cemeteries spanning the county.
“You have to look at each stone. If you have a bad one, you mark that one up as a bad one. It needs to be replaced,” he said. “I send an application to the VA in Quantico, Virginia. They determine whether the stone needs to be replaced. If so, it is then manufactured in Mississippi and shipped to me. I arrange for them to be installed.”
While the stones are free, the cost of removing old, worn stones and footers and installing the new ones can be expensive.
“It’s basically coming out of my pocket,” Long said. “The county has contributed some. Now we’re out of money and looking for some help.”
The price of installing a new headstone is between $50-75, according to Long. To make a donation, contact Ken Long at 717-838-6793, or an account has been set up to accept donations at Jonestown Bank, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Seven Shays Camp.