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Officials turn to federal government after inaccuracies found at new veterans memorial

STAFFORD — Stafford officials will turn to the federal government to verify the spellings, ranks, and status of the names listed on commemorative bricks at the county’s newly minted veterans memorial.

The move comes after Stafford County attorney Jason Pelt said he found 52 of the over 60 bricks contain errors such as misspelled names, wrong ranks, inaccurate time periods of military service, and some that were wrongly listed as killed in action (KIA).

“While reading the names, I noticed that Musselman, a common Stafford County name, was spelled Mussleman. With very little research I discovered that the brick dedicated to Sgt Norris G. Musselman read Sgt Morris G. Mussleman and listed him KIA during WWII. Further research found a Department of War report listing that Sgt Musselman’s cause of death as DNB (Died Non-Battle) not KIA,” Pelt said.

Pelt began his research after a July visit to the $800,000 memorial located on the grounds of the Stafford County Courthouse and Government Center. The memorial was dedicated to the public on July 15 after a five-year process of developing a working committee to fundraise for the memorial, to choose a design, collect names for commemorative bricks, and oversee construction.

More than 500 commemorative bricks show the names of those who served, but just over 60 showcase the names of KIAs who were Stafford County residents. Adding the KIA section to the memorial was done at the request of the current Stafford County Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Milde, according to county spokeswoman Shannon Howell.

The names on KIA bricks were taken from a plaque hung at Stafford Middle School showing the names of Stafford residents killed in action dating back to WWI. The plaque was made by a student at the school as an Eagle Scout project in the mid-2000s, and the memorial committee relied largely on the tablet to accurately transcribe the names of KIAs to the bricks, she added.

Other names of recent county KIAs not featured on the plaque, to include Marine Staff Sgt. David Stewart killed in Afghanistan in 2014, and Sgt. Donald Lamar, who was killed in Afganistan in 2010, was also placed on a brick and added to the memorial’s KIA section.

Howell said her office is working with the school’s principal to identify the former student who made the plaque and to learn where he or she got the information for the wall plate.

In the meantime, Howell said the county government would file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Archives in Washington seeking a full record for KIAs for Stafford County.

“We think the federal government is the definitive place to find this information,” said Howell.

Pelt said he relied on internet research, tapping into the database of the Library of Virginia, to uncover his information. Pelt told county officials he would turn over a binder of his research for officials to review.

The veterans memorial honors those who served in each U.S. war dating back the Revolution. Not every Stafford County resident service member dating back to 1775 is included in the memorial, simply because the county does not have KIA records dating back that far, said Howell.

Stafford County paid for the more than 60 KIA bricks now featured in the memorial and will offer to replace the bricks at no charge should a family member request a replacement, said Howell.

Other commemorative bricks at the memorial feature the names of those who served in the armed forces, but who weren’t necessarily killed in action. Those bricks, which were not limited to only Stafford residents, were purchased by the veterans themselves, or their family members to honor the memory of their loved one.

“These are the stories that need to be remembered and ensuring that their names and ranks are correctly memorized is the very least we can do,” said Pelt, a Major in the Marine Corps Reserves until 2012. “I just hope we can correct these names and ensure that all future names added are submitted to a fulling vetting process.”

Howell, who worked closely on the memorial project, said she helped to inspect for the accuracy of each brick used in the memorial. A spreadsheet was used to track each name.

The bricks were delivered about a month and a half before the commemoration of the memorial. Of the three lines of text on each brick that signify name, rank, and place of residence, only five had visible mistakes to include misspelled ranks, and missing hyphens from names, said Howell.

“We did this process with a high amount of reverence,” she added.

After Stafford County officials submit the FOIA request, federal law requires the National Archives to respond via letter noting the request has been received, and to provide a clear timeline, and expected fees to be charged to the county to produce the documents it seeks.

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