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Military family, friends, upset with burial site disruption

By Scott Hennessee, CBS Local 2 Anchor & Reporter, scott.hennessee@cbslocal2.com
Published On: Feb 11 2014 07:19:31 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 12 2014 10:14:11 AM CST
Riverside, Calif. -

When the family of Jared Landaker went to visit his grave at the Riverside National Cemetery on the seventh anniversary of his death, they were shocked and saddened at what they saw; headstones pulled from the ground with pickaxes, and frequently run over by heavy machinery.

"It's heart breaking," said Stacie Hernandez.

Hernandez is a childhood friend of Landaker's. After the helicopter Landaker was flying was shot down in Iraq, killing him and six others on board, she helped honor the Marine's memory by joining the foundation his family started. She says the way in which the cemetery renovation is being done, is no way to honor any fallen veterans memory.

"They were not caring for the markers," Hernandez said. "Not respecting or honoring our soldiers basically that have sacrificed their lives for the country."

Riverside National Cemetery Public Affairs Officer Jim Ruester says, "It's not done in any way to disrespect that young man, or the memory of his service and sacrifice to the country."

The Riverside National Cemetery is nearing the end of a two year renovation that crosses 270 acres, ripping out grass and laying down new sod. Webbing is put down to firmly hold grave markers in place, but in the process they're put in the path of some very large vehicles.

"I think its probably difficult to operate in those kind of confined spaces," Ruester said, "Without at least touching the markers in some way."

Ruester says the markers are kept near the graves throughout construction so that they're not misplaced.

Two hundred and twenty thousand people are buried at Riverside National Cemetery. One hundred and fifty thousand of them served in the military, and the rest are close family members to them. It is the third largest military cemetery in the country.

"It's a disruption that we feel is necessary to make the final goal," Ruester said. "Which is to make the cemetery beautiful and a shrine to the memory of Jared Landaker and all of the veterans who are buried here."

Landaker's family and friends do not object to improving the 35 year old cemetery, but they want people to know how it's being done so other military family members don't arrive and experience the same painful feelings they did on the anniversary of Jared's death. 

"There's other families that don't know what's going on at the cemetery and they need to be made aware of it," Hernandez said. "The cemetery needs to put some guidelines in place so it doesn't happen again."