"When I went over there (to the abandoned home), I found people had been inside the building, and had drug some mattresses out into the yard," Deputy Eldridge explained. He thought the property may have been used to "cook some dope (methamphetamine)," but he did not see any evidence of that. Instead, a big pile of metal and wire caught his eye.
"It looked like someone had been burning the insulation off the wire, so they could sell it," Eldridge continued. "It didn't look like they had done the burning there. They must have gotten spooked and dumped it, out of fear they were going to get caught."
While checking out the pile of metal, Eldridge spotted the copper grave marker. Apparently, in an attempt to melt it down, about half of the wording on the marker had been destroyed. The right half, which was left, shows the partial name of the deceased person. It says:
D WAR II
JUNE 12, 1993
Eldridge believes the man's name was probably Thomas E. Pendergrass Jr., a veteran of the U.S. Army, who served in World War II and died on June 12, 1993.
"I checked the Baker Cemetery (in Ozark Acres), and did not find a tombstone with the name, or one missing a military marker," Eldridge said. Eldridge also searched on-line records for a Thomas E. Pendergrass, and Hardy Police Chief Ernie Rose checked the Wapperton Cemetery in his area without success.
Areawide Media got involved when Eldridge asked for a check of 1993 obituaries to try to locate a Thomas Pendergrass, or similar name, who died in 1993, to identify his family members or where he was buried. Areawide Media could not assist, because the newspaper records in our acrhives only go back to 1994, the date Areawide Media began publishing Sharp County news.
"It appears this marker was attached to a tombstone, so, if we knew where the grave was located, we could probably contact the Veterans Administration and get the marker replaced," Eldridge said.
Ron Beeching, who runs the Fulton County Veterans Service Office, said the Veterans Administration will replace grave markers that are stolen or damaged, but a service number or death certificate is needed to make a request.
"I know people do strange things, but it puzzles me why someone would want to steal it (a grave marker)," Beeching said. "They couldn't get much (money) for it."
Eldridge expressed a similar frustration when asked why he hasn't given up on finding the grave from which the marker was stolen, and trying to get it replaced.
"For one thing, the government spends a lot of money to provide these markers for veterans. I am retired Army, and it is in total disregard and disrespect to veterans and the military to steal these markers, and burn them up to sell for a few bucks," Eldridge said.
Any help from the public to find the man's family or cemetery location would be appreciated. To provide information, contact Deputy Eldridge at the Ozark Acres SID office, 870-966-4811, or Richard Irby at Areawide Media, 870-895-3207.