"He gave his life for his country. To him we trust a place is given Among the saints in Heaven.”
So reads the stone standing over the grave of Pvt. James T. Bailes, who died in France while serving in the U.S. Army infantry on Sept. 26, 1918.
Bailes is the first of Hall County’s recorded dead from World War I.
But down the road in the same cemetery, the grave of another one of Bailes’ comrades, Paul E. Bolding, a Marine, gets the glory.
A monument bearing an eagle stands guard above Bolding’s body and boasts that his death on Oct. 3, 1918, was the first Hall County casualty in the War to End All Wars.
Bolding, like Bailes, died in France, and both were barely 26 at the time. No matter who got there first, both men’s graves are of the many marked with flags — fluttering reminders of their sacrifices — across the 80 acres of Alta Vista Cemetery today.
To the present-day visitor, many of the lives of the veterans buried in the municipal cemetery are a mystery.
The cemetery’s stones offer little details. A marker may at least tell of the dead man or woman’s military service; Henry Mauldin Hudgins, Staff Sgt. U.S. Air Force, served in World War II and in both the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Alta Vista is the final resting place for many of Hall County’s veterans. The municipal cemetery is home to three soldiers of the Revolutionary War, 125 Civil War soldiers and countless veterans of other wars, said Vince Evans, superintendent of Alta Vista Cemetery.
“They’re just scattered out across the cemetery,” Evans said.
Evans said that he expects a good number of people to come to the cemetery by the end of today to visit these servicemen about whom they may know nothing other than that they served in the U.S. military.
Evans likely knows the most.
Evans can go straight to the site of two Revolutionary War veterans. The men and one of their wives lay in a small site adjacent to Jesse Jewell Parkway, a home given to them by the members of the American Legion.
And he can nearly pinpoint the grave of a World War II veteran who died less than a decade ago.
“I’m looking for Fred Brown,” Evans said as he walked in a semi-circle between graves. “I know he was here yesterday; I hope he hasn’t moved.”
It was not long before Evans found Brown’s grave. Many of the veterans’ graves are marked with special stones like Brown’s is, making them easy to spot.
Evans, who sets the stones, uses them to learn what he can: whether a recent burial was that of a veteran and in which war the veteran served. Evans has yet to set any veteran’s markers for veterans of the Iraq War, he said.
But there are likely plenty of veterans whose graves are not distinguished with a veteran’s marker. And after 10 years in the cemetery, Evans admits that the lives of Alta Vista’s veterans are a mystery to even him.
“I’m kind of still learning,” he said.