Families outraged after trucks damage veterans' graves in Elwood

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - It's the final resting place for more than 40,000 U.S. military veterans and their spouses. But this sacred ground is invaded and disrupted two or three times a week by truck drivers. They ignore prominent warning signs, and one even drove across several graves.

The families of veterans at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood are upset, and they want it to stop.

Daniel Zdunich was a teenager when he fought in World War II. He married a few years later in Chicago, just before shipping out to fight in the Korean War.

Now, Zdunich and his bride, Joann, lie at the Lincoln cemetery near 43,000 other veterans and their spouses. But their family fears they may not be resting in peace.

“What the truckers did to the cemetery is just awful, awful. We shouldn't tolerate it,” said son Damon Zdunich.

Fred Hayes is the police chief in Elwood.

“This is the third incident this week where we've had damage to sacred, hallowed ground here at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery,” he said.

A big tractor-trailer blundered into the cemetery and destroyed an ornate wooden sign, which is ironically one of a half dozen that warn that such trucks are prohibited.

A few days earlier, another careless truck driver rolled right over several graves, leaving a big tire rut as evidence of his desecration.

The drivers all face charges, but none has apologized.

“I've never seen such disrespect for our true veterans who have honored our country, who have served our country. So, yeah, I'm pretty upset about it,” Hayes said.

The Lincoln cemetery is next door to one of the largest intermodal freight facilities in the world. As many as 8,000 trucks a day come and go, picking up cargo from rail lines for delivery to Home Depot, Walmart and other big retailers.

A spokesman for the facilities' developer, Centerpoint, told FOX 32 the following:

"These incidents at the cemetery are really horrible. We are looking at how to stop this. No truck should ever enter the cemetery."

Trespassing, though, is not the only problem.

Families and local officials complain speeding truckers disrupt funeral processions, rudely mistreating grieving families.

FOX 32: If he had seen an 18-wheeler drive over the graves of veterans, what would have been your Dad's reaction?

“Oh, I think he would have liked to shoot the guy,” son Damon said.

The cemetery director says he's reached out to the families of every veteran whose grave was desecrated with a solemn promise.

“My heart goes out to you. But rest assured we're doing all that we can to make sure that this doesn't happen again,” said Lincoln Cemetery Director Sean Baumgartner.

Now, under discussion is flashing electronic signs on Route 53 to warn careless truckers, and also a stop light at the cemetery entrance to give them time to read it.

Centerpoint plans to meet with the dozens of different employers in the intermodal complex, hoping they'll deliver stern new warnings to all their truck operators.

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