UTICA, N.Y. -- Bronze veterans' service markers are disappearing from gravesides, and cemetery officials believe the thieves are selling the metal rods as scrap.

Bronze veterans' service markers are disappearing from grave sites, and cemetery officials believe the thieves are selling the metal rods as scrap.


The most recent thefts from Calvary Cemetery on Oneida Street included more than 300 bronze rods, leaving the flags and veterans' emblems the rods hold scattered in the grass, officials said.


New Hartford police are investigating the incidents, but cemetery officials say there's little they can do to prevent thefts.


"It's unfortunate, too, because for a lot of people out there, there's no family left," said David Pritchard, superintendent of Calvary Cemetery and four other area cemeteries. "Now they don't have a flag because no one will replace the holder."


The bronze markers, which are usually provided or sold by veterans' organizations, weigh several pounds, said Fred Williams, commander of American Legion Post 1376 of New Hartford. Scrap metal dealers estimate bronze is going for about $2 per pound, meaning markers could sell for about $5.


Other cemeteries, including Mount Olivet Cemetery in Whitesboro, also have been hit, Pritchard said.


Stealing metal for scrap is a continuing problem for area law enforcement agencies, police said.


"We've had some thefts in the cemeteries during the warmer months of the year," said New Hartford police Officer Ronald Fontaine. "We've had some thefts from residences of copper piping."


Some scrap metal dealers work with police to apprehend people suspected of stealing metal products.


"When a customer comes in and we think something looks suspicious, we will take a photocopy of driver's license and their license plate number," said Joe Basi, vice president of Crash's Scrap Metal in Frankfort. "We're on the lookout for stuff all the time."


Since bronze isn't a popular item at Crash's, Basi said staff would notice if the rods were brought in to be sold.


"We would definitely know when something came in that's a no-no," he said. "We would be wise to that."


Calvary has been hit twice in recent months, once in the fall when thieves took more than 200 rods, and again in June when about 100 more were taken, Pritchard said.


To steal the rods, thieves have to unscrew the emblems and remove the flags, he said. Though the emblems also are bronze, trying to sell them might raise eyebrows, he said.


For the families of veterans, the thefts are a source of concern.


Linda Healy's father, Jerry A. Attili Sr., a decorated Marine who served in World War II, died in November. The service marker near his gravestone in Calvary Cemetery is a source of pride for her family, she said.


"My father helped fight for our country, and he was a very, very proud veteran," said Healy of Clark Mills. "If ours were taken, I think we would all be beside ourselves."


Mark Lazaroski, executive director of Catholic cemeteries for the Diocese of Syracuse, said thefts in the Utica area are more prevalent than in other cities.


He suspects that rods are being stolen during the day, since the markers are easier to spot, said Lazaroski, who oversees 13 cemeteries in Central New York. It's likely a vehicle was used since carrying out hundreds of rods would be a difficult task, he said.


Adding security to monitor Calvary's 125 acres of developed land would be too costly, he said, and gates wouldn't stop thieves from entering the cemetery. Having the cemetery open to joggers and police during evening hours only increases the chance that thieves would be spotted, he said.


"There's no fix to this," he said. "No easy fix."


Cemetery officials will continue to work with police, who they said have been very responsive and helpful in keeping an eye on the grounds during the evening hours, Lazaroski said.


"What we would ask is that if people see something suspicious, call the police and report it," he said.


Utica (N.Y.) Observer Dispatch