Honor, pride and community. Those words most expressed the sentiment of the more than 200 volunteers that cleaned up the grounds at Ivy Green Cemetery last weekend in Bremerton.
Dan Schremser, 86, a Coast Guard Veteran who served in World War II and the Korean War was among the first to arrive. He said it was important to honor and remember those who have served the United States.
“They served us, and it is only right that we should honor them,” he said.
The effort to beautify the cemetery was organized by community advocate Todd Best.
Best, a Navy veteran and former firefighter, said he had become aware of the condition of the cemetery when a fellow veteran asked him to visit the graveyard with him.
“I was brought here by a friend of mine who wanted me to see the condition of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the cemetery,” Best Said.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Bremerton is a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Bremerton’s replica is one of only three such memorials in the United States.
After visiting the tomb and seeing the disrepair the memorial had fallen into, Best said he approached city officials and offered to organize an effort to clean the cemetery.
Tom Cressman, Park Maintenance Manager for the City of Bremerton, said that although the cemetery is maintained by the Bremerton Parks & Recreation Department, budget cuts have left the department short staffed.
Cressman said the department is in charge of maintaining 38 sites with a staff of ten people and they always welcome community assistance.
“We are always looking for help from the community,” Cressman said. “Especially in the cemetery where we don’t have any full-time people.”
Best marshaled community members and individual volunteers from eight to 86 years old as well as volunteers from area churches, veterans groups, the Boy Scouts of America and other groups.
Roxanne Chavez and her daughter Amber were among the many volunteers that helped. Chavez said she felt it was important to serve the community and said her daughter had wanted to offer her service also.
“She likes to help, too,” Roxanne Chavez said
The pair spent part of Saturday cleaning the marker of U.S. Navy Veteran James Henry Phillips, who died in 1948. As they were cleaning an overgrowth of grass and weeds from the marker Amber Chavez said she was proud to help.
“It is good to help the people buried here and make the cemetery clean,” she said.
The cemetery is the final resting place of many veterans as well as veterans memorials. Among the memorials is one dedicated to 61 veterans killed during an attack on the U.S.S. Saratoga on Feb. 21, 1945, and a memorial for veterans of the Spanish American War and the grave of John H. Nibbe, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during the American Civil War.
Best said he is working on a project to add a walkway to the Tomb of the Unknown in Bremerton as well as adding lighting and other renovations. He said he was proud to offer his service and pleased with the spirit of the volunteers who also offered their service.
“We live in a great country, and we should be proud,” he said. “How can we not offer our service?”