With his soft-bristled brush and specialized cleaning solution in hand, 60-year-old Clarence Hollowell heads to the cemetery, ready to work on his day off.
During the workweek, Hollowell is a mailman with the Jacksonville Beach Post Office in Florida.
But on Sundays, Hollowell has a different gig: He voluntarily cleans the worn down headstones of U.S. veterans.
“Everybody’s gotta have a project. And I think if you can help the community, even better,” Hollowell told The Florida Times-Union.
Hollowell told the Times-Union that he comes from a military family and even served in the U.S. Army. He started cleaning headstones when he lived in North Carolina and has continued his tradition after moving to Florida.
Hollowell is fascinated by the names and dates written on the veterans’ graves. He always writes the names down and does a bit of research to learn what he can of each person’s story.
“I go to Ancestry.com and find out about them,” he said.
Hollowell takes his time with each headstone, cleaning them with D/2 Biological Solution, a cleaning agent known for removing stains and stubborn build-up of mold, algae and mildew from cemetery gravestones.
The process takes time, Hollowell says, approximately two to three weeks before a headstone is restored to an attractive light gray color. Sometimes, he will work on a particularly rundown headstone for months.
On Memorial Day, Hollowell chose to visit the Old City Cemetery in Springfield, Florida, cleaning two headstones belonging to Capt. S.L. Tibbitts and 1st Lt. Joseph H. Huau.
As he worked, he reflected on what Memorial Day means to him and pondered the stories of the veterans who cannot share them.
“Every town has a story. These guys probably never left their hometowns and, let’s face it, had the greatest adventure of their whole lives,” he said.
“They were 18, 20-year-old boys that didn’t come home,” Hollowell said. “My definition of Memorial Day is they gave their tomorrows so I could have mine today.”
Hollowell estimates he has cleaned around 600 graves as of May 26, 2019, and finds deep satisfaction in seeing the revitalized headstones. He refers to them as his “pride and joy.”