The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 7, 2013

Family needs help to find veteran's grave

By Karen Middleton

— Patricia Haggard and Billy Ridinger of Athens say they want to undo a 75-year oversight in leaving their grandfather’s grave unmarked, but they can’t confirm his burial site.

“We’re getting up in years now,” said Haggard. “We want our children and their children to know where he is buried.”

According to her grandfather’s military discharge papers, Robert J. Ridinger, enlisted in the Army in Decatur on Sept. 16, 1916. He served on the Mexican border from Oct. 26, 1916, to March 16, 1917.

Haggard visited the local Veterans Service Officers office and spoke with Mike Davis, who helped them fill out an application for a military veteran headstone.

The Veterans Administration will provide a marker, but VA officials say they need cemetery records, which no one seems to be able to access.

“The fact that the location of the veteran’s grave is unknown is not a sufficient basis for a memorial headstone or marker,” wrote VA Site Supervisor of Memorial Programs Service John S. Corsi in a letter responding to a request for a marker.

Haggard and Ridinger said that, according to the word of other family members over the years, their grandfather, Robert J. Ridinger, was buried in Old Salem Cemetery after he died Dec. 18, 1938.

“His brother, John Ridinger, is buried there, and they say my grandfather was buried beside him,” said Haggard.

She said there is one living relative, Arthur Ridinger, of Athens, who says he witnessed the burial of Robert Ridinger in 1938 when he was just 14. Arthur Ridinger is in ill health, Haggard said, but she would try to get a statement from him swearing that he witnessed the burial.

Whether the VA will accept an eyewitness account as documentation remains unknown.

Haggard sent to the state and obtained Ridinger’s death certificate, which said he died at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuscaloosa of advanced tuberculosis at the age of 44 years, 6 months and 29 days of age.

The death certificate stated Brown Funeral Home in Decatur handled the arrangements.

Haggard contacted the current manager of Brown’s — which is now called Rideout’s Brown Service Funeral Home — after a change in ownership. She is hopeful funeral records will say where they buried her grandfather.

Brown Service Manager Tim Bailey said Haggard has contacted him three times and he has been trying to assist her.

“I have no records previous to 1959,” said Bailey. “The problem is the funeral home has had multiple owners. I have talked to the (Brown) family and they said their father has died. They said there are boxes of old records in an attic, but the home is tied up in an estate and they cannot access the boxes.

“But I believe the records of that time would be vague. The records I have from the 1950s are on 4-by-6-inch cards and they do not contain much information. I would help her if I could, but I don’t have anything to go on.”

The News Courier contacted Limestone County Archives. Archivist Rebekah Thompson said she does not have Old Salem Cemetery records of burial. There are books that have been published showing tombstone records, but Ridinger had no tombstone. Thompson also consulted obituary records from local newspapers and there is no listing of a Robert J. Ridinger obituary.

A call to the Morgan County Archivist John Allison produced like results. He could find no obituary listing from Decatur Daily files.

Ray Blankenship, pastor of Salem United Methodist Church, said he does not know where the records are located for the Old Salem Cemetery. Jimmy Craig, a volunteer caretaker for the cemetery, said he knows the location of John Ridinger’s grave and had heard that Robert Ridinger is buried nearby, but he does not know who would have records.

If anyone has information on the disposition to Robert J. Ridinger’s remains, please call Karen Middleton at The News Courier at 256-232-2720.