Loved ones have grave concerns about upkeep at Grain Valley cemetery for veterans

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. -- A Grain Valley cemetery where hundreds of veterans are buried appears to have plenty of work to do before their annual Memorial Day ceremony this year.

Plots and grave markers at Swan Lake Memorial Gardens are free to veterans. The retired Army colonel who runs the place works for free, but some people aren’t happy with the way the cemetery is being kept up.

Dawn Embree went to lay flowers on her mother’s grave for Mother’s Day.

“I knew exactly where she was buried at and I couldn’t even find it,” she said.

After searching the grounds of Swan Lake Cemetery she’d finally find the grave marker caked in mud.

“It feels like to me it’s disrespectful to the people who have served our country. It’s like you are stepping on them," Embree's son Tony, a U.S. Army veteran, said.

Retired Army Colonel Don “Doc” Ballard took over control of the then bankrupt cemetery nearly a decade ago.

“These are my veterans and my customers their family members that’s who I work for and I try my darndest to satisfy them," Ballard said.

He says the cemetery has always faced challenges, because he provides free burial plots to veterans like larger national cemeteries without Veterans Commission or other goverment funding.

This spring has been particularly difficult. Thieves made off with $100,000 dollars worth of equipment and cash. Then there was the recent rain.

“We had about 60 graves that caved in over the last three weeks," said Ballard.

Ballard was busy filling the holes with dirt Monday, but says the gradual slope of the cemetery toward the lake could have sent mud onto grave markers.

He’s still trying to raise money to replace stolen weed eaters and blowers. But with the staff cut from 12 to two, he’s concentrating on graves and grass right now.

“We do need people to understand that we are doing the best we can, and come out and help," Ballard said.

“The VFW, any other type of veteran organization, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, anybody who supports the community would probably be happy to go out and clean veterans gravestones and clean up the area," Tony Embree said.

Ballard has announced this year’s annual Memorial Day ceremony will be the last one at Swan Lake Cemetery. He plans to take the money he usually spends on the program and invest it in the cemetery from here on out.