Clean headstones: Buried but not forgotten

Even after death, it’s important to care for war veterans.

That’s the message a local business put to action Oct. 9, holding a headstone cleaning event at the Knights of Pythias Cemetery in Port Orchard in preparation for Veterans Day.

Tara Haag is the owner of Headstoners, a local gravesite maintenance company that started business in January. The business offers free headstone cleaning for veterans at the request of a family member, a service she is proud to offer.

“To me, it seems like the least I could do to pay my respects and honor them in some sort of a way,” she said.

Several companies recommend having headstones cleaned once or twice a year, depending on the climate. Doing so in Kitsap County’s wetter conditions can increase the life expectancy of a headstone and give it an overall cleaner appearance, Haag said.

Not all buried veterans have the luxury of a family member to request the service available to them, however. Too often, Haag said, she has seen headstones belonging to the brave men and women who served America in the military that look completely abandoned.

“I’ve noticed walking through cemeteries that, a lot of the time, they do seem forgotten,” she said, “And so it’s just something that I thought that I could do as a nice thing.”

The headstones are often harder to read and darker in appearance due to lichen and mold that color the stones unpleasant shades of green and black. The fungi also eat away at the stone, causing them to break down over time.

With Nov. 11 coming soon, Haag decided to create Respects for Vets as a way to get the communities of Port Orchard and Kitsap County involved with the cleaning process of the headstones. She said the original idea was for her to clean as many as possible in a day, but after seeing lots of responses from people wanting to help, she opened it up to the public.

One of those who came to clean was Port Orchard resident Keely Middleton, who said that it was something she would often do with her husband, a senior chief in the Navy.

“We usually do this with him, but he’s stationed in another state,” she said. “I was just trying to find a way where we can just give back, even though he’s not here with us.”

The chemicals used at the event, which are the same ones used for cleaning headstones at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Haag said, will start working to give the headstones a brighter shine. She said, “With initial cleaning today, it may not look so great,” but that in coming weeks and months, it would be a proper fit to honor the veterans.

It was a successful event for organizers and people like Middleton, who was able to “keep at it and do volunteer work” with her kids, something that she said keeps the connection going while her husband serves as the veterans before him did.