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Tending graves and honoring memories

By MATTHEW WAITE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- For years, Mario Battista and others have lovingly tended the graves of veterans at the Pine Hill Cemetery.

Two years ago, they had the graves cleaned, a big improvement. But the one thing the gravestones needed, straightening, remained out of reach.

"We can't afford it, and the government won't do it," Battista said.

Enter North Meadowlawn Funeral Home.

The New Port Richey funeral home has agreed to straighten the 43 grave stones at the American Legion Section of the small Pine Hill Cemetery for free, Battista said.

New Port Richey Parks Director Bob Consalvo, whose department tends to the grounds at the cemetery, said the work should take a day and will involve straightening and leveling. Weather and ground shifting have caused the gravestones to move, he said.

There's plenty of U.S. history in the veterans' section of the cemetery. Some of the gravestones have been there since 1926.

Last year, Battista found a grave stone in the Civil War section of the cemetery with a freshly laid bronze plaque at the base of James W. Huff's final resting place. It proclaimed that Huff had won the nation's most prestigious award for military valor: the Medal of Honor.

Battista, himself a veteran of World War II, couldn't be more pleased.

"It's beautiful, honestly," Battista said.

-- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is .

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