SMITH MILLS, Ky. (AP) - The year before he died, Lenord Ray Bean Sr., took a batch of unclaimed wooden crosses from a memorial, mended and repainted them, then placed the markers on the graves of veterans at a cemetery in Smith Mils.
Bean, a Korean War veteran, started the grave marking on Memorial Day 2006, the last year of his life.
A year later, he had his own marker, as his wife, Joyce Bean, and children sought to continue a project Bean started to honor military veterans from the Civil War to the latest conflict in the Middle East.
"As long as I'm alive I'll make sure they're up," said Bean's daughter, Donna Simpson. And the tradition will be continued, "by our kids and their kids and their kids..."
Bean got started by collecting dozens of unclaimed wooden crosses that stood in Central Park during the annual Memorial Day observation in the western Kentucky town. The local American Legion Post had replaced the wooden emblems with plastic ones that would be more uniform in appearance and hopefully last far longer.
After family members took crosses representing their deceased loved ones, more than 70 of the markers were left. Lenord saw a future of service for the wooden crosses.
Lenord, who was a retired long-distance trucker, took stacks of them to the home he shared with his wife Joyce, mended and repaired them.
Lenord took a list of known military veterans buried in Smith Mills Cemetery and painted each name atop the freshly fixed crosses. On Memorial Day, he then took the crosses to a hill in the rural resting place that has markers dating back to the 1800s.
This year, his family again lined up 74 crosses representing the known identities of veterans buried in the cemetery.
Lenord's family, including loved ones ranging in age from toddlers to 76, erected the crosses on May 17. The work included a long line of family members, including 4-year-old Kylie Givens, Lenord's great-granddaughter.
Simpson recalls that when Lenord had the crosses in place, he told her, "Come look what I've done." Simpson said he "walked me through every one of them."
Joyce Bean said names will be added as the family is made aware of them. It didn't take long for a new name to be added to a cross.
Last Sunday a man knocked on her door and reported that there wasn't a cross for his uncle.
"There is one now," Joyce Bean said.
The crosses will be taken down and stored each year, with some being replaced as needed, Simpson said.
And, with her father's cross among the memorials, Simpson said, she's proud to continue her father's project.
"When you drive up the road to the cemetery and see those crosses, it fills your heart with sadness but also with joy that my dad thought enough about the vets to see they were honored," Simpson said.
--- Information from: The Gleaner, http://www.thegleaner.com/
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)