In observance of the holiday, hundreds of residents began streaming into the Palm Grove Cemetery, in downtown Monrovia, as early 6 a.m. to brush, paint and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones with flowers or wreaths. Others marched into the graveyard that morning with bags of cement, sand and hired contractors to repair the tombs of their deceased, as did many in other parts of the country that day.
For many of those who converged at the Palm Grove Cemetery on Wednesday, however, the tombs they had gone to fix had been ransacked.
One such victim of graveyard robbery spoke to the Daily Observer. Timon Tobo Titus told our reporter that he and his family went to the cemetary to decorate the grave of his late father, James Tobo Titus. “Unfortunately, we are seeing the tomb open with the casket and all the steel rods stolen,” he said.
“My father was brutally killed during the civil war. He was severely beaten by rebels after they attacked and captured Sinoe County. As a result of the beating, my father became very sick. He did not survive it, even though we brought him to Monrovia and had him admitted at S.D. Cooper Hospital. That was back in 1996,” he explained sadly.
For the Titus family, every Decoration Day presents an opportunity for them to reunite with their deceased and pay their respects.
“My father did well for us. He educated all members of the family and other relatives. We must pay him respect for this. This day also gives us a chance to reflect on what he did for us. But now, I’m disappointed because we met his grave opened and vandalized,” he explained, his voice quivering.
This experience was not unique to the Titus family. There were several other cases uncovered at the Palm Grove Cemetery last Wednesday.
Richard Wesseh, a former employee at the Palm Grove Cemetery (1971 – 2000) has blamed the act on marauding criminals. Wesseh, himself a victim, could not pay homage to his late wife on that day because her grave had also been vandalized.
Before it was completely fenced in, Palm Grove Cemetery had become a major hideout for criminals who terrorized residents in the central Monrovia area. Despite the fencing, however, some hardcore criminals still take pleasure in destroying graves for either steel rods, or jewelry. At one point graveyard robbery made headlines in several local dailies, especially reports that some criminals were actually using the graves as their dwelling places.
Decoration Day has been set aside to celebrate the memory of the dead and their contributions to society.
The presidential proclamation stated that “the Legislature of the Republic of Liberia, realizing that important events in the history of our Nation, should be constantly kept in the minds of citizens and youth of the country to inspire them to larger measures of service and patriotism did, by an Act approved October 24th, 1916, declare the Second Wednesday of March each year to be known as “Decoration Day”, and to be observed as a National Holiday.”
The proclamation further orders that the National Ensign be flown at half-staff from all public buildings, military camps and private residences from 12:01 to 5:30 p.m. in observance of the day.