Georgia company carves headstones for nation’s military cemeteries

Eddie Puckett figures he's made 300,000 to 400,000 headstones for soldiers and their spouses during nearly 40 years of work at Georgia Marble Company.

Now known as Polycor Georgia Marble, the quarry in Pickens County is one of the biggest producers of headstones for America's military cemeteries. It is also one of the few suppliers that handles the entire process, from cutting huge slabs of marble from the earth to shipping finished headstones to the Veterans Administration.

Puckett, 61, is one of the men who works the machinery that helps shape the pieces of marble and sandblasts the names, birth dates and death dates on the stones.

It makes him proud to know that the white-marble memorials are sent across the country. A few years ago, he visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington and was moved when he saw some of the markers he'd helped to make. Most of the headstones at Arlington are from his company's quarry in Tate.

The markers last about 50 years before they need replacing. Some get damaged earlier by mowing equipment. So there's a regular stream of orders to replace old headstones as well as make them for recently deceased veterans of World War II and Vietnam and other conflicts.

The past few years have been different, though. With the war in Iraq, there are more names and death dates for soldiers recently fallen in combat.

“The most bothersome are for the soldiers killed in Iraq,” said Puckett. “I've done them (headstones) for all the other wars that you can name — from the Revolutionary War on up. But you kind of feel for the Iraq soldiers because it's an ongoing thing.”

Still, he makes it clear that he supports President Bush “100 percent” and believes America is helping forge a democracy in Iraq.

Puckett served in the Army in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart after his leg was injured in a mortar attack.

He has worked on the headstones for some of his comrades from Vietnam, and he remembers one in particular, a Sgt. Evans from Alabama.

“I saw him personally get killed. Just a clear morning in the spring … and a mortar just hit straight on him.” He remembers that Evans had twin daughters, and it tore him up to work on his headstone.

“I'm proud of all the participants in the wars that we had,” Puckett said. “I'd say that war is rough, any aspect of it.”

But, he said, it's necessary.

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