Watch CBS News

African-American War Veterans' Gravesites Vandalized At Rye Cemetery

RYE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Crime-lab technicians on Thursday were investigating a possible hate crime in Westchester County.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported, the gravesites of veterans in the African-American section of Greenwood Union Cemetery in Rye were vandalized over Memorial Day weekend. Flags were stolen and a stone was knocked over.

The historic cemetery is no stranger to vandalism. There have been broken monuments and toppled tombstones before.

"To have this happen to these veterans is just unconscionable," said David Thomas of the Friends of the African-American Cemetery.

American flags placed on the graves of African-Americans who served in four wars were stolen last Friday as Memorial Day approached.

It happened in an old segregated burial ground – a resting place for 379 New Yorkers of color. Among them are 35 veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.

It was a careful sacrilege that in many ways was more chilling than previous intrusions at the cemetery.

We live in a country where some people believe that America is theirs and theirs alone," Thomas said, "and that is not the case."

Whoever committed the vandalism pulled the flags off and left the sticks that held them, perhaps as a message – and the vandalism happened only in the African-American part of the cemetery. The American Legion replaced the flags, but decided to keep the naked sticks here as a reminder.

Rye police have gotten forensic evidence from some of the flag sticks and sent them off to be analyzed. Any suspects could be charged with a hate crime.

"This is something that is a despicable act – you're tampering with the American flag on people who are war veterans -- and it's something we're not going to tolerate in Rye," said Rye Police Commissioner Michael Corcoran.

Among those at rest at the cemetery is Samuel Eshmond Bell (1836-1882), a farmhand who served his country with the 54th Massachusetts and participated in the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina – memorialized in the movie "Glory."

As CBS2's Young noted, Bell was a real person, and he was one of us – even if some would prefer we forget.

The cemetery opened in 1840, and had its last burial in 1964.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.