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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Veteran's stolen grave marker returned to family

Friday, August 17, 2012

The mystery of a dead veteran's stolen grave marker has been solved -- thanks to the efforts of Sharp County Deputy Jerry Eldridge, and an Aug. 2 article in The News.

Eldridge, who is assigned to Ozark Acres, found the copper grave marker, which had been half melted down, in a pile of metal and wire that had been dumped at an abandoned home in the Ozark Acres community.

The right half of the marker, which survived the attempt to melt it down, showed a partial name, and was obviously a grave marker for a U.S. veteran. It said:





JUNE 12, 1993

Eldridge believed the man's name was Thomas E. Pendergrass, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in World War II and died on June 12, 1993.

Eldridge asked for help from The News after checking the Baker Cemetery in Ozark Acres, the Wapperton Cemetery in Hardy and searching on-line records without success.

Eldridge could have easily ignored the situation, but was angered at the disrespect being shown to a World War II veteran. "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.

After the Aug. 2 article asking for the public's help in identifying the man's family or cemetery where he was buried, Eldridge received information indicating that a Thomas Pendergrass had lived in the Pocahontas area of Randolph County. Others took the search a few steps further.

"I received two faxes of Thomas Pendergrass' obituary that people had obtained from the Star Herald newspaper in Pocahontas," Eldridge said. "The obituary, dating back to 1993, indicated Mr. Pendergrass was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Pocahontas, and had a son, Tim, who lived in Randolph County."

The Randolph County 911 system did not have a listing for Tim Pendergrass, but Eldridge also contacted Lawrence County, and a Sheriff's Deputy there knew Pendergrass and offered to inform him that his father's marker had been recovered.

On Monday, Aug. 6 Pendergrass came by the Ozark Acres SID office and picked up the damaged marker.

"He (Pendergrass) said the marker had never been installed on his father's grave," Eldridge said. "He kept it on his front porch, and someone stole it from him. I guess he will contact the Veterans Administration to get the marker replaced."

Ron Beeching of the Fulton County Veterans Service Office said stolen or damaged markers are replaced by the VA.

"I want to thank all the people who got involved to help with this," Eldridge said.

The News also received e-mails and calls after the article was published about the effort to return the stolen marker.

Salem resident Barbara Chelstrom came to the Areawide Media office with information she found on-line. Chelstrom, who has done genealogy research, went to a website, familysearch.com, and obtained two records, which also could have helped solve the mystery.

In records listing Arkansas draft cards issued from 1948 to 1959, Chelstrom found that Thomas E. Pendergrass obtained a draft card in Pocahontas, and it listed his date of birth.

Another record, a "United States Social Security Index," included Pendergrass' social security number, his birth and death dates, and listed Randolph, Ark. as his last residence.

Like Eldridge, Chelstrom invested time showing respect for a man she did not know.

"My son is in the military, and it is just not right to steal a veteran's grave marker," Chelstrom said. "I hope his family is located, so it can be returned."

The hopes of Chelstrom and others moved by the article have been fulfilled.

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