The Department of Veterans Affairs has added pages for roughly 5 million more former service members to its Veterans Legacy Memorial online project, including thousands of veterans interred at public and private cemeteries outside the VA National Cemetery Administration's system.
Coming just ahead of Veterans Day, VA officials said the expansion doubles the size of the site, bringing the total number of vets memorialized to roughly 10 million, about one-third of all veterans dating back as far as the Revolutionary War.
The department was able to add so many veterans to the site by collecting information on those buried at private and non-VA cemeteries who received a headstone, marker or medallion from the National Cemetery Administration since 1996, according to VA Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Matt Quinn.
"Since becoming under secretary of memorial affairs more than two years ago, I've had numerous requests for family members for this type of opportunity. And again, as of Veterans Day 2023, we have made this a reality," Quinn said during a call with reporters Tuesday.
The Veterans Legacy Memorial launched in 2019, initially as a static website that gave basic details on 3.7 million veterans buried in the VA's 155 national cemeteries, such as name, grave location, and photo of gravesite.
The project was expanded in 2021 to include VA-supported state, tribal and territorial veterans cemeteries, and was then broadened again in 2022 to include two National Park Service cemeteries.
Earlier this year, just before Memorial Day, the VA added veterans interred at 27 cemeteries managed by the Air Force, Navy and Army, including Arlington National Cemetery. When making that announcement in May, James LaPaglia, digital services officer at the National Cemetery Administration, said it might be several years before the VA could add veterans in private cemeteries, due to the complexity of the records.
On Tuesday, however, LaPaglia said that the "database gave us some extra wins that we weren't quite expecting."
Those included 80,000 records for state, tribal and territories veterans cemeteries; 1,000 records for National Park Service-managed cemeteries; and 4,000 records of headstones and markers shipped overseas, according to LaPaglia.
Each memorial page includes a veteran's dates of birth and death, dates or eras of military service, grave location and photo of grave, as available. The site is fully interactive, allowing family members, friends and colleagues to share photos, documents and memories.
LaPaglia said that, to date, more than 73,000 posts have been made to veterans' pages by family members, friends, battle buddies and historians, and the dedications continue to "grow exponentially."
Linda Monroe, widow of Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Robert Monroe, buried in Riverside National Cemetery in California, has documented her husband's 20-year career on his page but also posts recent photos of family, provides updates on children and grandchildren, and sends him notes of love.
"I call it my radio to heaven because it gives me [so much]," Monroe said during the press call Tuesday. "I would hope that other family members, friends take advantage of what VLM provides you and post information or activities or just say, 'Hi, I miss you.'"
According to the VA, all content submitted for upload to the site is reviewed by moderators to ensure that it conforms with the Veterans Legacy Memorial user policy.
The next hurdle for adding more veterans to the site is to include 26 American military cemeteries overseas managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, LaPaglia said.
And, he added, the VA also expects to eventually create a system for family members to request a page for their veteran by providing documentation.
"This is years' worth of development work on continuing to bring in more pages so that more stories can be told," LaPaglia said.
For those who need assistance finding their veteran or changing or adding a record, the "Customer Support" link on the VLM website provides a phone number, as well as a link to an email address to request help.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com.