There are few things more despicable than vandalizing or stealing from cemeteries.

Carbon County commissioners had every right last week to voice their disgust and call for the prosecution of the thieves who stole 58 markers from veteran's graves at cemeteries in Nesquehoning sometime last month. Having grave plots vandalized is bad enough, but to target veterans puts it at a new level of disrespect.

What was more shameful was that the announcement of the grave thefts came during Easter week, a time when visiting relatives often frequent local cemeteries to place flowers and other remembrances on the family plots.

Other local officials were also riled. County controller Robert Crampsie commented that there was a time when stealing a grave marker wouldn't have even been considered. Today, the thieves don't even give it a second thought.

That's becoming more apparent across Pennsylvania, where stealing from a grave is a felony. The thieves obviously have no respect for the grave sites they steal from – their intent seems to be to cash in on the metal contained in the markers.

In Nesquehoning, the markers dated back to World War I, but in other parts of the state, stolen markers have dated back more than two centuries to the American Revolution. Some of the stolen veterans markers are circular while others are shaped like stars and about six inches in diameter.

They bear engravings with the names of wars – from the American Revolutionary War to the War of 1812 to the Civil War to World Wars I and II and the Korean War – along with the dates of the wars. They are attached to 2- to 3-foot-long rods which anchor them into the ground.

Near Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, cemetery officials say more than 125 brass markers used on the graves of soldiers were stolen from three adjoining northeastern Pennsylvania cemeteries. Some of those flag holders had been in place for more than 100 years.

Police there suspect the markers were stolen over the course of the winter and sold for scrap. That's because the thieves mostly targeted the older brass flag holders while the newer brass and aluminum markers were undisturbed.

And in northwestern Pennsylvania, more than two dozen grave markers of fallen veterans, some dating back to the Revolutionary War, were found in a local creek. A state trooper found the 29 bronze markers while investigating a separate incident.

Police feel they may have been taken from a cemetery in Corry, near Erie, where 25 to 29 grave markers were reported missing last summer.

Erie officials also suspect that the markers were stolen to be sold as scrap metal. However, the thieves may have realized afterward that attempting to sell the rarer Revolutionary War-era grave markings might be too risky so they just decided it was easier just to dump them in the creek.

We agree with the Carbon County commissioners who called for the stiffest prosecution under the law once the thieves are caught.

As one commissioner said, the veterans gave their lives so we could have what we have today. There's nothing lower than a thief who steals those earthly badges given to honor them by marking their final resting places.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com