Community member raising money to honor his veteran relatives
Robert Armstead spent 19 months exhausting himself, and his savings, caring for his ill father who died in December. For the last nine months, Armstead has been corresponding with the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs and multiple cemeteries to fulfill his father’s final wish.
Armstead is working to get his father, great-uncle and great-great-grandfather, who are all veterans, buried next to one another at the Great Lakes National Cemetery.
“My dad’s death wish was to be buried next to his uncle, so I made that happen,” said Armstead, who is a student in the Central Michigan University Senior Citizen Audit Program. “My great-great-grandfathers’ tombstone is deteriorating – and will probably be (completely) disintegrated in the next 100 years. They are not taking very good care of them, where they are now. I want to get them all buried together.”
His great-great-grandfather, Peter Armstead, fought in the Civil War. His great-uncle, Earl Armstead, fought in World War I. His father, who is also named Robert Armstead, fought in World War II.
The Armsteads have always been interested in genealogy and the history of their family. One of his aunts, Fern, traced the family's genealogy in the 1960s and 1970s, even traveling to Europe to get more information.
Fern’s daughter and Armstead's cousin, Ina Woolum, said she thinks what Armstead is doing to honor their veteran relatives is a wonderful tribute.
“I think my mother especially would be thrilled,” Woolum said. “I’d give anything for her to be alive to see this.”
Although Armstead, a 1982 alumnus who recently moved back to Mount Pleasant, is not a veteran himself, he said he values and understands the importance of public service and the sacrifices veterans have made for the country.
His relatives are buried in southeast Michigan and New River Cemetery in Port Austin. Armstead is trying to have his three relatives disinterred, taken to a funeral home, transported to Great Lakes National Cemetery and hold a ceremony to put the three veterans in their final resting place.
“It gets very complex because my great-great-grandfather, Peter ... that’s over 100 years ago that he was buried,” Armstead said. “I found out his casket back then was wood, so when I talked to the cemetery caretaker, he (said he) had accidentally hit (a casket) when they were digging. He said it was almost completely disintegrated; there was nothing left except some splinters of the casket.”
Whatever is left of Peter Armstead's gravesite will be buried at Great Lakes National Cemetery.
“There are two unique aspects to it, if it happens,” said Great Lakes National Cemetery assistant director Christopher English. “It would be the first Civil War veteran that would be buried at our cemetery and it would be first time that three related veterans would be interred side-by-side.”
Great Lakes National Cemetery is one of the four VA National Cemeteries in Michigan, 136 nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s important that veterans know they have this benefit available to them, because you wouldn’t believe how many don’t (know),” English said. “We are excited when people take advantage of the benefit they earned by serving their country. We refer to it as a gift from a grateful nation.”
To help finance his father's final request, Armstead has created the GoFundMe “Paying Tribute to Three Family War Veterans” to gather donations to make the final burial possible.
“Donations raised for Peter, Earl and Robert will be used for disinterment/reinterment, transportation, funeral home, and other related burial costs totaling $15,000,” the GoFundMe reads.
The first three GoFundMe donations have all come from people who are affiliated with CMU. In response Armstead said enthusiastically, “Thank you, Chips!”
Armstead hopes that he will have the process completed by the end of October. If not, he will have to wait until next spring due to the weather. Once the money is raised, and the process begins, he will host a ceremony at Great Lakes Cemetery that will be open to the public.
“The reason I’m going public is because I want people to realize what the veterans went through,” Armstead said. “I don’t want this to be political, I’ll invite people who are Republicans, Democrats and others. The politics stay out of the cemetery, once they come in. It’s all about paying respect to veterans."