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Sgt. Warren Reeves displays a drawing of the headstone that will finally mark his mother's grave in White Salmon, Wash., 20 years after her death.
Sgt. Warren Reeves displays a drawing of the headstone that will finally mark his mother's grave in White Salmon, Wash., 20 years after her death. (Ben Murray / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — When Sgt. Warren Reeves’ mother died of cancer 20 years ago, his family was so destitute they couldn’t even afford to mark her resting place with gravestone.

Money only went as far as a service and the burial, and the funeral home put out only a small, metal plaque with a slip of paper attached bearing the name of Toni Reeves and the years of her life, 1950-1985.

But in time, said Reeves, now a 29-year-old emergency operations worker at the Grafenwöhr training area, the paper weathered, the name disappeared and even the plaque was eventually removed from the site.

It was a hard day, he said, when he flew home on leave last year and drove the three hours to the cemetery in White Salmon, Wash., only to realize he couldn’t find his mother’s grave. All traces of the plot had been lost.

“It’s just grass now,” he said. “There was nothing there, everything was gone.”

He searched the whole cemetery, even had a map to use as a guide, but had to leave without seeing the grave. Because she’d died when Reeves was only 9, he has few vivid memories of her, he said, and relied on periodic visits “as a way to talk to my mom.”

To have her physical resting place vanish was a tough blow.

“It kind of hit home,” Reeves said. “I think of it as like going to visit ... as a way to touch bases with her again, as a way to talk to her again. And without that ... I felt like I couldn’t talk to my mom.”

So when Reeves returned to Germany, he resolved to find his mother’s grave and have it properly marked. He wrote to the funeral home that had overseen his mother’s burial and asked if the owners could help. It turned out they could locate the plot and order a headstone for it.

Reeves was relieved, he said, then further surprised when the funeral home offered to donate the $600 stone to him for serving in the military.

“Since you are serving our country and we appreciate your sacrifice and efforts, we would like to provide the headstone at no charge to you. Please accept it with our gratitude,” wrote a representative from White Salmon’s Gardner Funeral Home.

Derek Krentz, whose family runs the small funeral home, said he and his wife, Dominique, saw it as a concrete way to help a soldier, and took advantage of the opportunity.

“We just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not going to charge him anything,’” Krentz said. “We were just thinking that, here’s a young man that’s overseas, he doesn’t need anymore stress in his life. Let’s just do it.”

It was a gesture Reeves said that was not only overwhelmingly generous for him and his family, but also an important example that Americans still back their troops abroad, regardless of polls or negative news about the military.

“Acts like this are a rare gesture and need to be passed on to let soldiers know that the American people still care,” Reeves wrote to the funeral home.

The stone, a dappled tan marker with his mother’s name and the inscription, “Forever In Our Hearts,” should be placed by mid-July, within a couple of weeks of his parents’ July 4 anniversary, Reeves said.

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