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Honoring graves: Vietnam veteran places foot plaques, flagholders

Ted Bogda, a Vietnam veteran Marine Corps officer, firms a bronze foot plaque for the grave of a U.S. Navy veteran at a Cass Lake cemetery. Photos courtesy Stephen Johnson

Visitors to local cemeteries can sometimes find flags, stars, headstones or even metal foot plaques denoting citizens who have honorably served in the United States military.

Thanks to Ted Bogda, a Vietnam veteran Marine Corps officer, it is much easier to recognize those who have served their country. Bena resident Bogda has obtained more than 500 veteran star flag-holders and requisitioned and constructed 170 foot plaques for American Indian gravesites scattered throughout the Leech Lake Reservation.

I heard of his project and asked for an invitation to find out first hand how he was accomplishing his volunteer effort. He called me last week and took me to the Onigum area, just east of Walker. In the back of his pickup he had broken cement bags that had been donated by Home Depot of Bemidji, shovels, framing boards, large bottles of water for mixing and a shiny metal foot plaque in its cardboard container sent from the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. The first place we stopped was at the Onigum Episcopal Cemetery where Bogda constructed a cement footing for the foot plaque.

At the second site, the Onigum Old Agency Cemetery, Bogda pointed out 13 foot plaques he had placed. Corp. Munnell, a World War I soldier killed in France, was listed as dead at the age of 19. Bogda pointed out that school records indicated he was born in 1905 which suggests he died at age 14.

At our third site, Old Onigum Traditional Cemetery, Bogda repaired a Leech Lake Honor Guard notice board.

Bogda also visually inspected its flag post, one of 99 flag posts he helped build at gravesites and on Leech Lake Reservation community buildings.

Bogda said if he can piece together bits of information like the birthplace, date of birth and death, he can get cross reference numbers needed to complete the necessary paperwork for getting the veterans' markers.

He said one deceased soldier's birthplace was listed as Round Lake, Minn. From his birth and death dates with place of birth, he could not, for some reason, access information needed for the foot plaque. Not until a conversation with the later elder, Liz Boyd, and his wife, Esther, did he find out that Squaw Lake was once known in the past as Round Lake. With that information, he could cross reference the new place of birth with other entry numbers, which matched needed data for the veteran's metal plaque.

Not until after the Korean War did the government list one's ethnic background on service forms; soldiers were designated as either Caucasian or Negro. This practice made it difficult to identify Indian veterans. Bogda said a letter from President Grover Cleveland thanked 24 Indian veterans who served in World War I. To this date, Bogda has found 50 on the Leech Lake Reservation.

Among others, he credits the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs of Bemidji, county Veteran Service Officers, area funeral homes and the Minnesota Historical Society with helping him identify veterans and obtain markers earned by those deceased veterans.

Bogda said family members seeking eligibility for grave markers and other information should contact a county Veteran Service Office listed in county government telephone book pages. In this area, these include Julie Harris in Bemidji at 333-4177,; Faye Dudley in Walker at 218-547-1340 Ext. 314,; Harry Hutchins in Bagley at 218-694-6618,; John Lombard at 218-732-3561,; and Randall Carlson at 218-327-2858,