VA Approves Govt. Headstones with Armenian Crosses

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WASHINGTON — For many years, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has honored deceased American veterans and has made available Government Headstones or Markers for their graves. These Markers generally include the “Emblem of Belief” (EOB) of the deceased veteran.

When Shavasp Hanesian, an eminent lawyer in Niagara Falls, NY, who worked on a committee that prevented a regional developer from taking the property of St. Sarkis Armenian Church, died in 2005, his family felt that one of the government markers should be on his grave. His wife, Laurice, and, brother, Deran, began to investigate the requirements for a government marker to honor him for his service in the 24th Infantry Division in the Army of Occupation of Japan after World War II.

Upon receiving the information and application for obtaining a marker, they learned that 38 denominations had their “Emblem of Belief” accepted by the Veterans Administration. Armenian- American Veterans did not have available their “Emblem of Belief,” the Armenian Cross. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian was contacted to request permission to proceed in getting the Armenian Cross accepted by the Veterans Administration as an acceptable “Emblem of Belief.” Barsamian gave permission for the endeavor and involved Fr. Mardiros Chevian and Deacon Sebouh Oscherichcian.

The Veterans Administration was contacted and a document was prepared. Officially, the application had to be filed by the next of kin, his wife, Laurice Hanesian. An extensive letter was required by the “recognized central head or primary contact person” of the sponsoring organization. Barsamian provided the necessary information of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He provided the history from the founding by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew after the resurrection of Christ and the conversion of the Armenian people from Zoroastrianism. The letter elaborated on how the Armenian people became the first nation to accept Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD and how they have survived and defended their Christian faith against hostile enemies for more than 1,700 years. It was pointed out that Armenians have served in the Armenian armed forces since the American Revolution. After the Genocide of 1915, which was perpetrated by the Government of Ottoman Turkey, large numbers of Armenians immigrated to America. They and their children continuously served in large numbers in the United States Armed Forces beginning with World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan. They served honorably; many gave their lives and many others served honorably and survived.

The letter also had to submit “information about the size and organizational structure of the organization, including the total number of members and the location of the congregations.” It was pointed out that since the Genocide of 1915, the Armenian nation has been dispersed all over the world and its churches serve large congregations in the Armenian homeland and in the diaspora.

One challenge emerged and that was to fulfill the request of a “three-inch circular digitized black-and- white representation of the requested emblem that can be reproduced in a production line environment in stone or bronze without loss of graphic quality, and is free of copyright restrictions.” The Veterans Administration was called for advice. Deran Hanesian also sought advice from his colleague and friend, Bill Reynolds, director of Instructional Technology and Media Services (ITMS) at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Reynolds contacted the VA and obtained the requirements for the “three-inch circular digitized black-and-white representation of the requested emblem.” He accessed a picture of an Armenian Cross on the Internet and prepared a completely black and white, three-inch digitized cross on the computer. A copy of the cross was sent electronically to the Veterans Administration and was accepted.

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Today, the loved ones of deceased Armenian-American veterans of the US Armed Forces, who have never received a government grave marker or tombstone, can submit a request for one with the Armenian Cross on it for their graves. The grave markers and tombstones are free of charge. The marker will be sent directly to the cemetery where the veteran is buried; the cemetery staff will install the marker on the gave site.

For more information, e-mail mps.headstones@va.gov or contact National Cemetery Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, 5109 Russell Road, Quantico, VA 22134-3903.

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