Veteran cemetery gets poor marks from Fresno County

Fresno County Civil Grand Jury issues critical assessment of Veterans Liberty Cemetery, report says rundown conditions are disrespectful to all of the veterans buried there

The Veteran Liberty Cemetery sign, which has been vandalized by graffiti. (Darren Fraser)
The Veteran Liberty Cemetery sign, which has been vandalized by graffiti. (Darren Fraser)
Darren Fraser
Published August 17, 2023  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO COUNTY – Citing overgrown weeds, dead trees, neglected grave markers, boarded up restrooms and under watered lawns, the Fresno County Civil Grand Jury (FCCGJ) issued a critical assessment of Veterans Liberty Cemetery (VLC).

The FCCGJ issued the critical assessment on April 19, in which it stated that the poor condition of the grounds and the absence of routine maintenance are disrespectful to the veterans buried in the cemetery.

FCCGJ first inspected VLC in September 2022. On the initial visit, it found what it described as “several deficiencies.” These included a flagpole with no American flag, a street sign in serious disrepair, boarded up restrooms that had been vandalized, an antiquated irrigation system with broken and missing sprinkler heads – which lacks the capacity to adequately irrigate the entire cemetery – and no shed to store equipment, as an arsonist torched the original building in 2021.

Dry patches of grass surrounding some gravestones in the Veteran Liberty Cemetery, some of which are decorated with American flags and flowers. (Darren Fraser)

However, the VLC’s water issue is expected to be addressed in the near future. Recently, the Fresno Board of Supervisors approved a new water project for the cemetery. The project includes a new water system which will utilize reclaimed water. The project is expected to be completed late this year or early 2024.

The Fresno County Department of Parks is responsible for maintaining the grounds. According to the FCCGJ report, one full-time groundskeeper attends the cemetery once a week. The cemetery covers five acres and contains about 4,200 graves. The report notes that routine maintenance is often hampered by staffing shortages and lack of equipment.

According to the report, the county reached out to both state and federal agencies to ascertain if they would take over responsibility for the cemetery. All requests were declined.

The Times reached out to the parks department for comment but was told the individual in charge was out of the office. The Times also reached out to Supervisor Brian Pacheco, whose district includes the cemetery, but was told he, too, was out of the office as of press time.

FCCGJ made subsequent visits to the cemetery, after which it compiled a list of recommendations. The parks department refurbished the cemetery sign on Belmont Avenue – it has since been tagged by vandals. There is a new flagpole with a flag that is illuminated by a solar light. The restrooms remain boarded.

FCCGJ recommends the board of supervisors authorize a one-time funding source for cemetery improvements before the end of the year. The jury also recommends the county director of public works should outsource the maintenance of the park or assign enough staff to adequately care for the grounds,  replace the cemetery sod with pebble or rock (by Sep. 30, 2023), remove the bathrooms, procure tools specific to the needs of the cemetery, and designate a county employee to serve as liaison between the county and community groups willing to donate their services to maintain the cemetery.

FCCGJ recommends that the board of supervisors adopt a separate budget for the cemetery by the end of the year.

On Nov. 16, 1896, the Council of the Administration of Atlanta Post 92, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) paid the county $8.80 for a 150 foot by 100 foot plot of land. The plot became VLC. 

In June 1920, G.A.R. transferred ownership of VLC to the county. VLC is home to veterans from the Civil War, both world wars, the Spanish American War, the Indian War of 1609, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the Philippine Insurrection. The last burial plot was allocated in 1978; however, burials continue to this day for individuals who purchased their plots prior to that date.

Darren Fraser