'The right thing to do'

Growing up next to World War II veteran Saveria ‘Sam’ Guccione stuck with Legionnaire Jay Doherty. Guccione was stationed on the USS Arizona but was home on leave when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Doherty, commander of American Legion Post 121 in Aledo, Ill., said Guccione visited the USS Arizona Memorial and, when he returned home to Illinois, “was pretty teary-eyed,” Doherty said. “It was obviously a very emotional experience for him.”

It was an emotional experience when Doherty found out that Guccione’s gravesite in the Aledo Cemetery has no marker designating him as a veteran. Doherty was made aware of that fact during a conversation with Legionnaire Bryan Nash, a member of Post 1971 in nearby Eliza, after Nash had mapped out the cemetery and realized some veterans’ graves also didn’t have the same designation.

“I was appalled,” Doherty said. “Every veteran who has served honorably should have a marker at their gravesite.”

After doing research, including pouring over the cemetery’s record, Doherty and Nash realized that of the more than 700 veterans buried in Aledo Cemetery, around 300 had no markers. So Doherty went to his next post meeting and floated the idea of changing that.

“I entered a motion to start a program to fix the problem,” Doherty said. “I knew it wasn’t right, and every veteran at our post felt it wasn’t right. Then I shared it with our local (Veterans of Foreign Wars) post, and they didn’t like it, either.”

With support behind him, Doherty formed the Mercer County Marker Committee last August and began planning to provide markers for every veteran’s gravesite. A local television did a story on his project and donations began to pour in. Aledo’s annual Veterans Ball – a joint American Legion-VFW event – raised $1,455, which Post 121 matched. Enough other donations came in – including one final anonymous one Feb. 14 to cover the remaining shortfall – to give Doherty the funding he needed – $30 per marker – to ensure every veteran’s gravesite is covered.

“I’ve always known that this county has been deeply supportive of its veterans, but to see it to this extent was shocking to me,” Doherty said. “And so this Memorial Day will be the first time since 1841, when the first recorded grave went into the cemetery, that every veteran in the cemetery will be properly honored.”

Nash already has told Doherty he wants to map out New Boston’s cemetery, also in Mercer County, this summer. And Doherty has been in contact with American Legion Post 246 Commander Harry Scharff in Moline, Ill., about starting a similar program there.

“It would be great to see other posts in other states do something similar,” Doherty said. “The veterans in those cemeteries deserve it. This was just the right thing to do.”