Database Built to Record Fallen Heroes Buried in Edinburg

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EDINBURG – All the lives of veterans laid to rest at Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery are finally being recorded. Volunteers teamed up to track, document and create a database that pinpoints the history and location of veterans buried.

Service members buried at the cemetery were overlooked for decades.

“About three years ago, we were asked if there was a database or a list of all the soldiers that were here and we found out one does not exist,” Kiwanis Division 11 Lt. Governor Sonia Enriquez said.

Varying branches of service, generation and gender lay in harmony.

“It’s incredible once you see it. Where they’re two weeks apart, how young they were. You look at their birthday, when they died, it’s incredible, it’s really, really… I get goosebumps just saying it,” Kiwanis Club of Edinburg President Robert Villarreal said.

Some soldiers were documented with the Veteran’s Affairs Office while others weren’t.

“It started with one of our Kiwanis members. He is a service man himself and he came by on Memorial Day and he noticed that there wasn’t any flags on any of the graves. So he came and he put like 20 flags,” Enriquez said.

A group of volunteers gathered to take data pertaining to the veterans, including their name, branch and date of their deaths.

“We’re about maybe 80 people that came out and put all this information together. We put a database which is incredible information,” Villarreal said.

Eric Brown, the Texas State Veterans Cemetery Program deputy director, said the government doesn’t track veterans who died or where they were buried. The only information they obtain is through family.

“The only time you’re required to report a veteran’s death again is when he or she is receiving monetary benefits from the V.A.,” Brown said.

Brown recommends those who survive the veteran notify the branch in which they served.

“Each branch of service keeps their own lists, that list is not a requirement. It’s so that other military members within that branch of service are made aware that a veteran has passed, because as you know, each branch of service is like a family. So they try to keep addressed of the happenings of their fellow brothers in arms,” he said.

Enriquez and Villarreal want to create a database for other private Valley cemeteries. They said it’ll take time and effort but honoring all veterans is their motivation.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS learned veterans who pass are eligible for an official service member headstone or medallion at no charge.

The headstone not only provides the veteran with a salute for their service but also helps the VA gather information of their passing and burial site.

The headstone is provided to eligible veterans who died on or after Nov. 1, 1990 and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone.

A government furnished medallion is given to eligible veterans who served on or after Apr. 6, 1917 and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker. 

Link: Pre-Need Burial Eligibility Determination

Link: Headstones, Markers and Medallions (U.S. Department of VA)


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