While people across the country honor veterans this Memorial Day weekend, one man in North Carolina makes a point to do so year-round.
Using a little bit of water, elbow grease and a soft bristle toothbrush, Clarence Hollowell cleans veterans’ headstones every week.
Hollowell began his journey last summer as a mailman delivering mail to the Maplewood Cemetery in Wilson.
That is when he realized how dirty the veterans’ headstones were.
“People just walk away and they can’t read it,” Hollowell said. “Once you clean it, people can actually identify it, and look at how old they were, and wonder what kind of person they were.”
Coming from a military family himself, the condition of the headstones hit close to home for Hollowell.
“My dad was in the Coast Guard for 20 years,” Hollowell said. “I had another brother in the Coast Guard, two brothers in the Navy, and I did three years in the Army.”
The first headstone he cleaned was his father’s.
“He has been gone 38 years now, and I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Hollowell said. “It is emotional because it is your parent.”
Since then, Hollowell has cleaned more than 500 headstones between Maplewood and Rest Haven in Wilson, to the Belhaven Community Cemetery and Cedar Grove Cemetery in Elm City.
“Some take two to three weeks,” Hollowell said. “Others may take three to four months.”
He makes a point to learn about the person behind each headstone.
“Everybody has a story,” he said “I keep a journal, I write every man’s name down, everything that is on that stone, I will document it, and then I will go look on Ancestry.com and find that story. Look in the newspapers to see if there are any obituaries or stories.”
He said he does this to honor them the way they have honored our country.
“Military are the backbone of America,” he said. “They gave up their tomorrows, so I could have mine today.”
He said he has no plans of getting out of the mail delivering business, or headstone cleaning business, anytime soon.
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