Note: This story appears in the Friday, June 7 newspaper on Page A3.
NEW LEXINGTON — Memorial Day was a day for celebration for those who served in the Armed Forces. However, one mother of a fallen soldier was stricken with sadness when she realized that her son’s grave had several items missing.
Cathy Bonham went to go visit her son, CPL Gavin Lee Neighbor, at the Rehoboth Cemetery midday when she discovered the missing items from the gravesite.
“I had went up to visit on Memorial Day,” Bonham said. “I was standing there looking at it and I thought that something didn’t look right.”
Bonham stated that she found a big hole where a statue once stood in front of her son’s grave. She had cemented the statues down because she has lost things from his grave in the past.
“I just thought, oh my God, I can’t believe this,” Bonham remarked.
Several statues and items left behind from other visitors had been removed from Neighbors’ grave. Some of the items removed include a little white angel statue, a puppy statue with a necklace and all the coins left by other veterans.
“People don’t know how sentimental those things are,” she added. “I was pretty upset that whole day.”
Bonham stated that she contacted the Perry County Sheriff’s Office to report the stolen items but was told that there was not anything they could do to find the people who took the items.
Neighbor was recognized during the New Lexington Memorial Day ceremony by event guest speaker and lifelong resident Dick Newlon.
“Gavin Neighbor was and is a hero,” Newlon said in his speech. “He voluntarily accepted his assignment to Iraq. He understood the oppression endured by the Iraqi people. He understood the price of freedom, and paid the ultimate price. The lasting tribute to Gavin will be the freedom of the Iraqi people.”
Neighbor died while on deployment in Iraq almost 16 years ago during a grenade attack. He was 20 years old and had reached the rank of Corporal while on duty. He had plans to join the Army Rangers, Bonham told The Perry County Tribune.
Bonham posted photos of the damage to Neighbor’s grave on Facebook on May 27. The photos show a big hole right at the headstone and several other items were noted as missing.
In a time of sadness, two GoFundMe donation accounts have been set up to replace the stolen items. One of the accounts has raised over $2,800 and was set up by Adam Plares on behalf of Bonham. Plares reached out to Bonham and asked permission to set up the page to replace the items.
“Gavin’s mother is obviously shaken by the desecration of her son’s grave,” Plares writes on the GoFundMe page. “For this reason, any additional money raised will go towards treating her to a much-needed day of self-care. Gavin is an American hero and deserves to be honored.”
Another GoFundMe page was set up by Nathan Jackson and has raised over $1,000. Jackson writes about his experience meeting Neighbor in the page’s description.
“When I first met Gavin, it was when I was forced upon him by the Army powers that be as a roommate,” Jackson writes. “Gavin taught me that it is a worthy endeavor to help the little guy. From the few conversations that I’ve had by those who knew him growing up, that was his way. He brought forward the weak and the downtrodden into the light.”
Bonham said that she has seen the GoFundMe pages and has shared them on her social media. She was overcome with emotion when she saw the support she was receiving.
“I cry every time I look at them,” she said. “Every time I look at it I am just overwhelmed because I didn’t know that so many people out there, who don’t even know me or nothing, are giving to my son and me.”
Bonham thanks all those who have donated to the pages. She intends on fixing and replacing all of the items that were taken from her son’s grave.
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Aleksei Pavloff is a reporter for The Perry County Tribune.