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Grim's Tales: Veterans have been forgotten, but not for long

Recently, Jacque Ide of the Pine Ridge Cemetery Board asked if we would run a story seeking help finding information about deceased veterans Arnold Oller, Ernest Hopper and Kenneth Degroot. (This was further explained in a story in this issue - r...

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This aerial photo by Andrew Johnson shows the veteran section of Pine Ridge Cemetery in Pine River, including Arnold Oller's grave in the top left corner, Ernest Hopper's unmarked grave in the ninth column, second row, and Kenneth Degroot's grave on the right end of the third row. Submitted Photo

Recently, Jacque Ide of the Pine Ridge Cemetery Board asked if we would run a story seeking help finding information about deceased veterans Arnold Oller, Ernest Hopper and Kenneth Degroot. (This was further explained in a story in this issue - read it here .)

The whole story starts out a little tragically, but it can end positively.

Three American veterans' graves were simply not sufficiently marked. None of the graves included information on rank, branch of service or active duty. Two graves had no indication of when the person was born or died. One grave literally had no marker at all, just a dip in the ground and a last name on a mostly blank cemetery map.

Every year we hold ceremonies all over the country to show that we do not forget our vets. Sadly, these three were about as close to forgotten as one could get. All it would have taken was one filing error and any chance of identifying Ernest Hopper in his eternal resting place would have been eliminated.

Kenneth Degroot has so far proven the most difficult to find, in part because there were several Kenneth Degroots with military records in or near Minnesota during the window of time when this one lived. This sort of anonymity is almost as bad as having no known name at all.

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The fact that they ended up buried in the Pine Ridge Cemetery section dedicated to veterans instead of in a graveyard with same last names suggests these three were possibly forgotten almost immediately.

Hopper died at 57, Oller was in his 80s, and there is no record of them having relatives in the area. Hopper's next-of-kin was a brother in Minneapolis who possibly never even knew he died. The local Hopper family ruled themselves out as relatives due to timeline of their arrival to the area. He died in Pequot Lakes and was likely buried in Pine River simply because it was the nearest veteran's plot, which meant family involvement wasn't necessary to have him buried.

Oller and Degroot had markers, but they were reusable metal markers that appear to serve as temporary markers for most grave sites. There was a small pile of them in a nearby maintenance shed which were likely removed when the matching graves received tombstones.

Hopper, Oller and Degroot never got stone markers, even though they qualified for them simply by being veterans. There was no issue with lack of funds. It is possible there was nobody around to give Veterans Services information on their services to their country. Even then, it is possible that nobody knew their branch of service and rank.

The graves showed signs of long-term neglect. Oller's marker had been changed, likely accidentally, at some point to read Arnol D Olle, and even though it looks like it happened a long time ago (the missing "r" was hidden among dents and corrosion in the corner of the marker), nobody fixed it.

Similarly, Degroot's marker was missing a small metal plate that would have indicated his birth and death year. How long it had been missing is a mystery, but there was clearly nobody around to make it right. I don't like saying it, but these veterans were very much forgotten.

Degroot may not have been alone in the area. What little information we can find so far indicates that he was likely a member of the Pine River American Legion Auxiliary and paid dues until 1999, though he paid his dues from Alabama.

Next to him is another temporary marker that has been bleached blank. This marker belongs to an unidentified Legion Auxiliary member who may have been related to him, possibly a wife. I suspect she would have only been buried in this section if she had nowhere else to go. She is the only auxiliary member in this section and someone had to pull some strings.

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I can only find reference to one Pine River Auxiliary member with the last name Degroot, and that would be Josie Degroot who lived in Florida but paid dues to the auxiliary in Pine River until 1995.

We could use help from all our readers to find information so these two individuals can be remembered again. Please email travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com if you or someone you are familiar with might be able to help identify Kenneth or Josie Degroot.

Related Topics: VETERANSPINE RIDGE CEMETERY
Opinion by Travis G. Grimler
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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