Remembering more than 1,000 veterans buried at Mount Pisgah

By: 
Jonathan Gallardo with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

A statue salutes over some of the more than 1,000 veterans buried at Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Gillette on Friday. Photo by Ed Glazar, Gillette News Record. 

GILLETTE — On the western side of Mount Pisgah Cemetery, there’s a flat slab. It’s easy to miss. It doesn’t stick out among the nearly 7,000 grave sites in the cemetery.

Situated between a tree and a bush, it was covered by an inch of snow Friday afternoon. Darin Edmonds, the sexton of the cemetery, swept the snow off the headstone to reveal the name.

James H. Tantum. Born in 1834, died in 1908.

He was a private for the Union Army in the Civil War. He was a member of Company F in the Colorado Cavalry. And he was the first veteran to be buried at Mount Pisgah Cemetery.

Edmonds said up until last week, he never knew the significance of Tantum’s grave.

“I’ve seen this grave a thousand times, and I didn’t realize that he was the first (veteran),” he said. “I knew it’d be one of the Civil War guys, we have five or six of them.”

The first four veterans that were buried in the cemetery were Civil War vets. Tantum was the first, followed by three more who were buried in 1915, 1916 and 1917.

The very next year, in 1918, the cemetery received its first World War I veteran.

Since Tantum’s burial in 1908, more than a thousand other veterans have joined him in that cemetery.

Earlier this year, Mount Pisgah Cemetery buried its 1,000th veteran.

Down the hill from Tantum’s gravesite, in the northeast corner of the cemetery, there’s a special area dedicated to veterans. That’s where Leland Hove is buried.

He was the thousandth veteran to be buried in Mount Pisgah Cemetery.

Hove enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating high school, and he was deployed to the Vietnam War at age 18. He was in Vietnam by the time he turned 20. He died in Gillette this past spring.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 6,925 people buried at Mount Pisgah Cemetery, and 1,013 of them, or 14.6%, are veterans. That means that one in every seven people in Mount Pisgah served in the military. Every veteran’s grave is marked with a white cross.

And this doesn’t include veterans who moved away and ended up being buried in other communities, Edmonds said.

“What the true number is, it would be hard to track down,” he said. “We can only look at who’s inside the fences here.”

It’s not just limited to Mount Pisgah. The cemetery district’s rural cemeteries also have a high level of service.

In Bethlehem Cemetery, about 6 miles south of Gillette near Highway 50, 11 out of 97 people buried there are veterans. In the Wright Cemetery, it’s six out of 30. Ten of the 69 buried in the Rozet Cemetery served in the military.

But the Savageton Cemetery has the highest percentage, with nine vets out of 41 total burials, or 22%, Edmonds said.

Lee Yake, commander of the VFW Post 7756, said Campbell County has a history of service in the military, as well as remembering those who served.

Yake, a Campbell County native, remembered coming back to the U.S. after serving in the Vietnam War. There was no celebration, no parade, and in California, where he was discharged, he was told not to wear his uniform in public.

That changed when he returned home.

“Once I got back to Wyoming, everyone was supportive,” he said. “They supported our efforts as far as serving, not necessarily in agreement with what was going on, they still thanked us.”

Even for Wyoming, Gillette stands out in its remembrance of veterans, Yake said.

“Wyoming’s pretty supportive, we just do an awful lot more than the other cities,” he said. “I think it’s just the way we are here. We love our freedom and our country.”

Gillette is the only city in Wyoming that holds a Veterans Day parade, Yake said, and it doesn’t matter how cold the weather gets.

“They do it, rain or shine, and those veterans deserve it,” Edmonds said.

In the last 10 years or so, Yake said he has noticed people starting to be more appreciative of veterans. Besides the Veterans Day activities, the community holds events on Memorial Day, and the week before Christmas, wreaths are placed on veterans’ graves. And Gillette Main Street recently recognized local vets with banners up and down Gillette Avenue.

“I know in the last several years, it just seems like our organizations and different groups are doing things for vets that they weren’t doing before,” he said.

Not every vet buried at Mount Pisgah saw combat, but many of them did. Nearly one-third, or 290 of them, served in World War II. World War I has the second most, with 139. There are 75 Korean War vets, and 67 who served in Vietnam. And unfortunately, Edmonds expects that 67 to “grow considerably” over the next several years.

Whenever Yake walks through the cemetery and sees a white cross, he takes time to pay his respects.

“I like to stop, just to salute them,” Yake said. “In my mind, I thank them.”

 

This story was published on Nov. 8, 2022.

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