Headstone Carvers Proud Of Their Work
BARRE, Vermont, March 20, 2005 — This little town nestled deep in a valley of the Green Mountains calls itself the "Granite Center of the World." Its quarries and workers have produced some of the nation's most significant memorials — the haunting black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the imposing World War II Memorial in Washington and the simple one that stands in Arlington National Cemetery commemorating those who died at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
In the low-slung, 107-year-old factory of Granite Industries of Vermont, on the edge of town, workers like Jason Allen, 27, touch lives across the country in a way that may be even more meaningful. For 10 hours a day, sometimes six days a week, Allen glues stencils on headstones for Arlington and other national cemeteries in the Northeast. Each day, Allen sees up to 100 names, 100 dates of birth, 100 dates of death.
He doesn't linger on the names — even on the day when he saw one similar to his own: Marine Staff Sergeant Jason Allen Lehto, 31, killed while trying to defuse a bomb in Iraq.
"When I saw my name on the stone, I didn't think much of it," he says. "I see so many names every day."
Most of the names belong to World War II veterans. A few are on replacement stones for veterans of wars even farther back than that — Union and Confederate soldiers from the Civil War and even going back to the Spanish-American War. But more and more, the workers are seeing the names of current-day casualties.
There are four workers on what they refer to as "the government line."
"They're hard workers, every one of them," supervisor Linda Beaudin says of her "boys."
After a stencil cut by a computer-guided machine is glued on to a 230-pound marble stone, another machine sandblasts it, etching in the names and dates. It is then spray-painted to fill in the inscription, ground to smooth the edges and the faces, checked for errors and then boxed for shipping. On average, one comes off the line every eight minutes.
It's hard work, flipping the stones and moving them by hand. The long hours are needed to keep pace with the tight production schedule required by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — as few as 10 days between order and delivery.
The workers are young — about the same age as some of the causalties in Iraq.
"They're out there defending our country," says Jared Despault. "I have a lot of respect for them and every other veteran who comes through our line. … I kind of feel like I'm doing my part for my country by making these stones for the soliders who have died."
And for Marines like Staff Sergeant Lehto, a reservist from Michigan. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his grave marked by a headstone crafted with pride.
Posted: 20 March 2005