The way Jim Neider sees it, stealing markers from the graves of men and women who served their country through military service is "as low as you can go."
Neider was reacting to news that more than 400 bronze markers -- perhaps many more -- have been stolen from the graves in at least a half-dozen cemeteries in the Byron-Bergen area.
The case is being investigated by both the State Police and the Sheriff's Office.
The markers are placed by families and veterans service organizations and, in many cases, were pushed into the turf beside the headstone of a veteran decades ago.
The markers are designed as flag holders and include a bronze medallion designating a veterans group, such as the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. The medallion typically weighs about a pound and the current replacement value is $32 each.
"They're very expensive," said Nieder, a local veterans leader. "I do discourage people now from getting them because they do have a tendency to walk."
Nieder said since the 1990s, veterans and families have been more likely to buy aluminum markers, which have no scrap metal value to speak of, or less commonly, plastic.
Whoever is involved in the theft of the markers is facing a charge of grand larceny, said Trooper Victor Morales, public information officer for Troop A.
Nieder pointed out that there is a law now on the books that covers both the sale and purchase of markers used on the graves of veterans. Section 450-A of the state's general business law says "it shall be unlawful for any person, firm, association or corporation to engage in the buying or selling of metal cemetery markers and flag holders bearing the insignia of any veterans' organization placed upon the graves of veterans."
Each violation of the law is punishable by a $500 fine or 15 days in jail or both.
Morales said the State Police are investigating the left of markers in four cemeteries in the Byron-Bergen area. More than 400 markers were stolen from these cemeteries. The Sheriff's Office is investigating thefts from other cemeteries, but Morales didn't know how many other cemeteries or how many additional markers were stolen from those locations.
We've been unable to contact the investigator with the Sheriff's Office handling the case.
The disappearance of the flag holders was discovered over the weekend. It's unknown when they might have been taken.
When asked for his reaction to the thefts, Neider said his first thought wouldn't be publishable. He said this isn't like stealing something from somebody's front lawn. The thieves are going into graveyards and stealing from those who unselfishly served and are dead and buried and unable to defend themselves.
"It's the ultimate slap in the face to these veterans and their families," Neider said. "They earned these markers by their service. It's akin to the problem in Batavia earlier this summer of people going in and desecrating headstones. It's almost beyond that because these markers are earned by these veterans, and it's a cemetary for crying out loud. ... It's pretty low. As low as you can go."
Anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of these items, or, who may have information on the larcenies is asked to contact the State Police in Batavia at (585) 344-6200 or the Genesee County Sheriff's Office (585) 343-5000.
UPDATE 7:40 p.m.: We just spoke with Tom Williams, with the American Legion in Bergen. He said local Legion leaders are trying to figure out what to do. It would cost $16,000 to replace all of the markers.
"That's a lot of money," Williams said. "You know how hard that is to come by."
He doesn't have a count on how many total markers were stolen. There's still an inventory taking place of all the graveyards in the Byron-Bergen region.
Among the more than 400 known to be stolen was the one that marked his father's grave, said Williams, who served in the Seabees from 1963 to 1966.
He doesn't think much of the perpetrators who lifted the markers of America's heroes.
"Those are people who made sure we were kept free," Williams said. "They did their job. They left their homes, their families. I did that, the same as my dad. It's just the idea that whoever did this is a real son of a bitch. It just bothers me. Why would they come here? Why would they do that? There are people who are nuts. They don't understand. They have no clue."
Photo: For the purpose of illustration, a picture of a marker in a local cemetery. If you see these, made of bronze, and they're not in a cemetery, contact local law enforcement.