Fulton County

Perth Army veteran now has proper headstone thanks to community members

Jane Konik smiles as she looks at photograph of her late father at Perth Cemetery. Next to her is Perth Councilman and President of Perth Cemetery Association Peter Betz. Photograph of late Howard Forgette in his uniform and his new grave marker to be placed later this year
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Jane Konik smiles as she looks at photograph of her late father at Perth Cemetery. Next to her is Perth Councilman and President of Perth Cemetery Association Peter Betz. Photograph of late Howard Forgette in his uniform and his new grave marker to be placed later this year

Since April 9, 2014, Howard Forgette has been lying in an unmarked grave. 

The U.S. Army veteran, who served in Korea from 1956 to 1958, is buried next to his wife, Nancy, in the Perth Cemetery, which dates to 1807. But while Nancy Forgette, who died in October 2010, has a headstone marking her burial site, Howard Forgette lies beneath nothing but grass.

That fact has been weighing on his daughter Jane Konik of Perth ever since her father died at the age of 79. Konik, who lost her factory job in 2009 and has since had some employment cleaning homes, said money is tight, and she and her three younger brothers haven’t been able to afford a headstone, which can range from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000.

“Financially, we weren’t able to. So I just kind of left it at that, and I felt bad,” Konik said. “My brothers and I talked, and they said we don’t have the money to do it either. So we just didn’t. It didn’t get done.”

She said she thought about it nearly every day.

Konik said Forgette was a caring father, a sociable man who enjoyed family reunions and neighborhood gatherings. In the nice weather, he’d come home from his job as a welder at General Electric and tend to the garden, tilling or picking out stones.

“He was just a good guy. He’d do anything for anybody,” Konik said.

Forgette didn’t talk much about his time in the service. But he did have quite a few photos of himself and his Army buddies. Konik still has the pictures, reminders of her father’s past.

All this would regularly enter Konik’s thoughts, making it that much more unbearable that she and her family weren’t able to properly honor their father, a man who had dutifully served his country in the Army’s engineering department following the Korean War.

Then one day last fall, Konik received a Facebook message. It was from Peter Betz, a councilman in the town of Perth who is also president of the Perth Center Cemetery Association.

Betz said he and some volunteers had been cleaning up the cemetery grounds in late summer when one of the cemetery association members mentioned she knew of the unmarked place where Forgette was buried.

Betz, a town historian and the son of a veteran, knew immediately that Forgette was eligible to receive a headstone.

According to the Veterans Benefits Administration, “The Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death.”

All Betz needed was a death certificate and discharge papers.

Knowing nothing but Forgette’s name, Betz said he did a little online sleuthing and eventually found his way to Konik, prompting him to send the Facebook message.

“I didn’t know what to think at first,” Konik said, “but I was really excited.”

The two met at a Stewart’s shop in late October. Now that Betz had a copy of the birth certificate, he worked with former Fulton County Veterans Service Agency Director Dan Engel to track down the discharge papers and order the headstone.

The piece arrived at Betz’s home earlier this month.

“I’m not a veteran, but I’m veteran-conscious because my father was a veteran,” Betz said. “I think everybody should have a stone, and I think veterans deserve it more than anyone else. They need to be remembered as a veteran as well as a human being because they are more than that when they become a veteran. So I was very happy that we could do this.”

Konik said she was amazed at the quality of the bronze headstone.

“I was kind of shocked. I didn’t expect something this big. I just expected a little plaque. I’m so happy,” she said. “It’s something that should have been done a long time ago, but I just never knew who to contact.” 

In the spring, they’ll place the stone in the cemetery above Forgette, laying it at an angle atop a cement base so that rainwater washes off and long grass won’t cover the inscriptions.

“My dad would be happy. He would really be happy. He really would, to see that he got something as meaningful as this,” Konik said.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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