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Precious metal

Families of veterans angered by stem marker thefts at Abington cemetery

Bill Vegnani examined a grave marker at the Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Abington, where the copper and brass stems of veterans’ flags and medallions have been stolen. Vegnani has tended the site for 20 years and said he has never seen a theft like this. Bill Vegnani examined a grave marker at the Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Abington, where the copper and brass stems of veterans’ flags and medallions have been stolen. Vegnani has tended the site for 20 years and said he has never seen a theft like this. (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
By Ben Wolford
Globe Correspondent / July 20, 2011

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ABINGTON - Elaine Harte, 72, was distraught when she called the town veterans agent last week, upset about what she discovered at the cemetery where her husband is buried.

“She said, ‘Joe, I think something’s wrong up here,’ ’’ Joseph Colantoni said yesterday, a day after word spread that the copper and brass stems of 18 veterans’ medallions had been ripped from gravesites in this town south of Boston.

Family members of veterans buried at Mount Vernon Cemetery visited their loved ones’ graves yesterday to check if theirs were among those hit by thieves apparently looking to sell the stakes as scrap metal, cemetery officials said.

“To come here and desecrate this, it’s awful; it’s a sin,’’ said Bill Vegnani, a Vietnam veteran and volunteer custodian of this small corner of Mount Vernon, a plot jointly owned by the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

For 20 years, Vegnani has tended the site and watched the number of graves grow to 105. Never has there been a theft like this, he said.

“I feel bad for the families when they come up and see this,’’ he said.

Visitors trickled in yesterday. Carol Batson of Brockton came to see whether her husband’s medallion was intact. It was.

“I’ll go back and tell my kids that everything’s OK,’’ she said.

Only copper and brass stems were taken last week.

At the going rate for those metals, selling 18 1-pound stakes could net no more than $66, local dealers said.

To buy one of those metal stems new costs about $23, said Charlene Jones, president of the local VFW women’s auxiliary.

Most of the medallions themselves were made of plastic, and all but three of the metal medallions were left alone. Cemetery workers believe that thieves trying to sell 18 of them might attract suspicion.

Anything made of aluminum or plastic at the cemetery was untouched.

Bill West, 63, of Abington made a trip to the cemetery to check on the graves of his father and mother; both plots had been left alone.

“It’s a shame,’’ West said. “Nobody has any respect.

“If they catch them, when they catch them, I think it’s a mandatory jail term. As long as we keep saying, ‘Hey, it’s a bunch of kids,’ they’re going to keep on doing it. They have to learn there’s consequences when they do stuff.’’

Abington police are investigating the thefts.

Asked about the incident, Police Chief David Majenski told a reporter, “I’m good,’’ and did not comment further.

The deputy chief of police did not return a phone call.

The thefts in Abington follow a rash of scrap metal thefts across the state in the past few years.

Lat March in Western Massachusetts, police in several communities investigated a string of thefts involving stolen plaques that marked veterans’ graves, The Republican newspaper in Springfield reported at the time.

In 2008, thieves made off with several sculptures in Forest Hills Cemetery, and bronze footprints that were part of a statue of former mayor Kevin White went missing in December.

“It’s a shame that someone would do something like that,’’ said Harte, whose husband, Charles F. Harte Jr., is buried in the Abington cemetery.

Colantoni said the Department of Veterans Services will handle the replacement of the medallion stems.

The new ones, he said, will be plastic.

Ben Wolford can be reached at bwolford@globe.com.