When Laura Hall, research officer for the Allen Genealogical and Historical Society, wanted to recognize deceased WWII veteran Albert Baggett with a military headstone, she had no idea the journey she would embark upon.
“Last year, I was doing a mapping project at LeBlanc Cemetery,” said Hall, “and I noticed this man did not have a headstone.”
“He was not the only one without a headstone, but in the course of taking the census of the graves, I came to know he was a World War II veteran.”
That particular veteran was Allen Parish native Albert Grover Baggett (1923 – 2008).
Hall added, “Not only that, but he had actually landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day!”
Who was Albert Grover Baggett?
Baggett’s roots in Allen Parish ran deep. Four generations of his Baggett forefathers were buried at LeBlanc Cemetery, including Civil War veteran Milton Brown Baggett Sr, his great-great grandfather. He was a long-time member of the LeBlanc Pentecostal Church.
Hall said, “Every person I talked to about him said he was quiet, nice, generous, gentle, caring, honorable, and deserving. He never married, and lived his entire life in LeBlanc.”
“I have seen unmarked graves before,” Hall added. “They are unmarked for various reasons, and I’m familiar with that. But this one kept me up at night.”
At that, Hall was determined to find out what happened to Baggett’s military headstone.
She contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs, but because she was not family or an “approved representative,” discussions with them were unfruitful.
Undeterred, Hall then contacted Eric Kuyper, Commander of American Legion Post # 244 in Kinder. She explained to him the circumstances—that a World War II veteran was lying in an unmarked grave--and he took it from there.
“Comdr. Kuyper told me that he was the last person I was going to have to call about this,” said Hall. “And he was right!”
Kuyper’s contact with Hall was on March 8, and he immediately went to work to resolve the predicament. One of the first things he had to do was to be designated as an official representative of Albert Baggett, who had no direct family members qualified to engage in his behalf with the government.
“As a local commander of a recognized veterans organization, I am legally authorized to represent Albert Baggett,” said Kuyper.
With this recognition, Kuyper took initiative. He reviewed Baggett’s obituary, and he viewed the cemetery plot. He then communicated directly with the Veterans Administration, state representatives, and the local funeral home to resolve the situation.
His undertaking involved traversing a maze of submitting updated forms, communicating with officials, and running down leads. Finally, after over two months of concerted and tenacious effort, an answer to Albert Baggett’s headstone was received.
Ironically, it all transpired over Memorial Day weekend.
“On the Tuesday after Memorial Day, the VA contacted me and told me they had found the headstone,” said Kuyper. “Come to find out the marker was sent to the funeral home in 2008, but the relatives who were to receive the headstone were in Arizona, and never came to pick it up. Those relatives had since passed on.”
Various issues had complicated previous efforts to locate a headstone. One of the issues was that the form number for requesting military records had changed over the years—the form number was different for World War II veterans. Prior inquiries using the updated form number therefore yielded no results.
Another issue was that Baggett’s paperwork was processed through an out-of-town branch of the funeral home, so that there were no records of the marker in the Kinder branch. Over the past eleven-and-a-half years, the stone had been housed in storage at a different branch. The person who signed for the stone was no longer an employee.
Kuyper lost no time in getting the headstone placed on Baggett’s grave. In a ceremony conducted on June 2 at the LeBlanc Cemetery, the marker was appropriately placed with military recognition.
For his service in World War II, Baggett received the EAMETO (European-African-Middle Eastern Theater of Operations) Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, and World War II Victory Medal.
Kuyper expressed thanks to all those who had been a help to his efforts, including the funeral home, the members of American Legion Post # 244 in Kinder, US Representative Mike Johnson, State Senator Heather Cloud, and State Representative Dewith Carrier.
“All three of those elected officials are great friends of veterans,” he added.
Kuyper went on to say, “Albert Baggett was a twenty-two-year old who landed in Normandy on D-Day, and fought the Nazis in Northern France. It was unsatisfactory to me that he was in an unmarked grave, and it needed to be rectified.”
“In 2020, people say there is no need for veterans organizations,” continued Kuyper. “This is proof right there that these organizations are needed to represent past, present, and future veterans on their behalf.”
The Allen Genealogical and Historical Society would like to thank research officer Laura Hall for her passionate commitment to ensuring that this quiet and unsung hero is forever remembered.
Link to Albert Grover Baggett’s Find-a-Grave:findagrave.com/memorial/34077268/albert-grover-baggett
Article by Dr. Jon Buck Ford--Webmaster, and Wanda Carole Wrinkle Ford--Photojournalist
Laura Hall, Allen GHS President and Research Officer