CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which veterans organization is leading the effort to mark veterans' graves with patriot medallions. The project is part of the Texas Veterans Hall of Fame.
While one volunteer held down a patriot medallion, another used a bolt and hammer to lodge its stake about 6 inches into the ground next to a World War I veteran’s grave.
Volunteers repeated this process Saturday until medallions decorated the final resting places of 176 WWI veterans at IOOF and Oakwood cemeteries in Denton.
The project is a collaboration between the locally based Texas Veterans Hall of Fame and Historic Denton, a nonprofit making efforts for historic preservation in the city.
Gary Steele, with the Veterans Hall of Fame, said they started with World War I veterans since 2018 marked the 100-year anniversary of the war’s end.
“There’s about 800 veterans in both cemeteries,” Steele said. “Today we’re going to celebrate the 100-year [anniversary]. Our goal is to do all the veterans in these two cemeteries and we’ll partner with other cities to do this.”
Each medallion has a scannable QR code on the back. When the code is scanned with a mobile device, it’ll lead to a page on the Texas Veterans Hall of Fame website about the particular veteran once website development is complete.
Steele said families are welcome to provide biographies for veterans as long as they were born in Texas or lived in the state for at least seven years.
The computer science department at University of North Texas is also working with the organization to create a mobile application where people can find the cemetery where a veteran is buried if they know the city they’re buried in.
World War I began in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Several countries including Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the assassination, setting countries off to take sides: The Allies included France, Great Britain, Russia, Serbia, Italy and the United States, while the Central Powers included the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.
Volunteers in Saturday’s efforts ranged from veterans, a currently enlisted Air Force cadet and student volunteers from UNT, some of them Air Force ROTC cadets.
The younger volunteers teamed up and worked in pairs to place medallions next to veterans’ graves. Air Force ROTC Cadet Colton Estes led the group as they searched for gravesites on their map.
Moving clouds brought sun one minute and shade the next. The breeze and 81-degree weather kept volunteers cool. Doughnuts kept them fueled before they went about placing more medallions on graves at Oakwood.
For cadets in UNT’s Air Force ROTC, one of the requirements is doing volunteer work.
Ricardo Iniguez is a logistics student at UNT and is currently enlisted in the Air Force Reserves. Iniguez said he chose this volunteer opportunity to give thanks to those who have served before him.
“I just want to, in a way, give thanks to veterans there before me who established the path for us and show respect [because] not a lot of people think about veterans a lot,” Iniguez said.
Fellow UNT students Keegan Van Geem and Tazh Brown both come from military families.
Brown said he wants to be more involved in veteran volunteer opportunities because it will help with his career path: clinical psychology with a focus on veterans. He said his dad is currently serving overseas.
Van Geem is the secretary of UNT’s Student Veterans Association. She said it’s hard coming from a military family but that there’s a community within military families.
“[My dad] was deployed when I was young, and I have a twin sister and I know my mom had a tough time while he was gone,” Van Geem said. “There’s definitely a community to [military families] and people are very respectful towards his service. When he was gone, there was no hesitation from others to reach out and help our family.”