SHARECOMMENTMORE

By Mike Bush

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Like soldiers, the tombstones march up the hills of this hallowed ground saluted in silence by dignity and respect.

This is Jefferson Barracks national cemetery in south St. Louis County where nearly 200,000 heroes are given rest. But that rest doesn't come easy.

Taking care of the sprawling 331 acres are caretakers with a sense of duty.

"We have 37 out in the field, says cemetery director Jeff Barnes. "And we have 13 in the office and they just do a tremendous job."

All those in uniform here used to wear a different uniform.

"Yes sir, " chimes Caretaker Andrew Vanhoogstraat. " I served in Iraq 2004 in Najaf."

"We have all served in the military, explains Caretaker Don Williams.

Just as in the service, these veterans go through training because their work often requires painstaking precision.

"In the military we say attention to detail and it's the same out here, says Adam Van who is also a Caretaker. "Everything is attention to detail."

Through freeze or thaw, rain or snow a soldier can fall out of line. These are the men and women who set them straight.

"They're fine tuning and aligning is what this is called," says Williams.

According to the standards here, 90 percent of the headstones have to be in perfect alignment but 100 percent is always the goal.

On average, there are 19 burials a day at Jefferson Barracks five days a week making this the 5th busiest national cemetery in the country.

"We only have one chance to do it right," remarks Barnes. "We don't have any do-overs is what we say."

Behind every stone is here is a story. On this day, Air Force veteran Joe Hegger came with his daughter and grandson to visit his wife Mary on her birthday.

"A lot of the cemeteries say perpetual care but it never happens. This one you know it's going to be that way, "says Hegger.

The family takes great comfort that she's buried here.

"It means the world to me because I wanted her resting place to be somewhere beautiful," explains Hegger's daughter Susan Ranzini.

For the most part, the laborers here try to stay in the background and out of the way. There are times though, when a family says thank you in their time of grief, that's it's impossible to keep your distance.

"All of us at one time or another gets choked up with emotion. It's overwhelming sometimes," says Williams.

There are few other places where quiet speaks such volumes reminding us that freedom isn't free, but after watching out for us, perhaps it's some comfort to know that our heroes now have someone watching out for them.