Every Sunday is a new opportunity for Clarence Hollowell to reflect on those who have lost their lives and given so much for the country by giving a unique gift back to them.
Having the day off from delivering mail for the Jacksonville Beach Post Office, Hollowell heads to a nearby cemetery.
There, the 60-year-old Army veteran gets on his hands and feet in the dirt and cleans several of the old tombstones.
It’s his honor to help and serve those who have fallen, he claims, a service that has done for over 600 tombstones.
“Sunday morning, with the sun already sweltering at the Old City Cemetery in Springfield, Hollowell directs his focus to two graves. One, a captain named S.L. Tibbitts, the second, 1st Lieutenant Joseph H. Huau. When Hollowell finishes cleaning their headstones, he’ll write the names down on a sheet of paper and do some investigating. Just as he’s done for 600 names already,” the Florida Times-Union reports.
According to the report, Hollowell then takes his cleaning a step further by going home and looking up the fallen soldiers online to “find out about them.
Southern Living reports:
“I go to Ancestry.com and find out about them,” he told the Florida Times-Union, pointing to the headstone of James H. Savelle, who died in Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1918 from influenza.
“They were 18, 20-year-old boys that didn’t come home,” he told the newspaper. “My definition of Memorial Day is they gave their tomorrows so I could have mine today.”
Here’s more from Florida Times-Union:
“Everybody’s gotta have a project,” Hollowell said. “And I think if you can help the community, even better.”
On his day off, the veteran drives to the old cemetery with only a few tools — a plastic scraper to remove growth, a soft bristled brush, a toothbrush for small areas, water and a special cleaning solution he orders online.
The cleaning solution, called D/2 Biological Solution, is the only solution approved for use at national cemeteries. It costs Hollowell about $40 a gallon.
“I just start from one corner and work,” he said as he scrubs Tibbitts’ grave vigorously with his soft brush. He estimates he’s cleaned about three dozen graves at the Jacksonville cemetery, which was established in 1852. “If one person comes over and looks, I’m happy.”
The approximately 50-acre cemetery is split off into sections: There’s an area for emancipated slaves, Masons, Catholics, Jews and Confederate soldiers.
Hollowell cleans veteran graves in all the areas, except for a pristine patch that’s already regularly maintained by the local Sons of Confederate Veterans branch.
Lately, he’s done a round of headstones from what he thinks were members of the U.S. Colored Troops — an Army branch from the early 1800s comprised of minority groups.
Each grave is treated with a similar process which takes Hollowell about two to three weeks to complete. The process starts with scrubbing any growth or debris off of the tombstone’s exterior and then repeatedly using water and a brush to clean its nooks and crannies.
From there, Hollowell sprays the chemical solution and waits for 15 minutes. At this time, the solution kills off bacteria and brightens the underlying stone. Hollowell repeats this step until the stone reaches his quality of cleanliness.
“I’ll work on this for about an hour,” he said per the report. “Back and forth. It’s just like your hair. You rinse and repeat.”
“Every town has a story,” Hollowell continued. “These guys probably never left their hometowns and, let’s face it, had the greatest adventure of their whole lives.”