Calverton cemetery employees strive to 'never let a veteran be forgotten'
Newsday Long Island
By Martin C. Evans
August 17, 2019
“I turned away and just felt, wow…,” he said. "I felt good that I could make that family feel a little better than when they had when they came here.”
Douglas Chong is a former Army tank mechanic who now works as a landscaper at Calverton National Cemetery. Photo Credit: Martin C. Evans
Richard Hilts was a specialist in the Army a decade ago when his wife’s grandfather, a Navy man who served in World War II, was laid to rest at Calverton National Cemetery.
For the interment, Hilts volunteered to replace a member of the color guard. In his neatly pressed uniform, moving with ceremonial deliberateness, the soldier helped fold the burial flag into a tight tricorner, then knelt to give the colors to the widow.
Today, Hilts is one of the cemetery's nearly 100 employees — 62 are former service members — who prepare final resting places for thousands of veterans every year.
“That tells the story of our mission here — to never let a veteran be forgotten,” said Hilts, 35, of Coram, who studied on the GI Bill at St. Johns University, then went to work setting gravestones at the cemetery the day after he graduated in 2015.
“Yes, we lost some people while I was over there,” Hilts said of his three combat tours in Iraq. “So I’d say this is especially personal for me.”
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