WINSTON — Raymond Malone and Michael Liles were in a cemetery last week searching for tombstones marking the graves of military veterans.
“I’ve got one over here!” yelled Malone.
They went to work. Liles, 26, slashed overgrown brush with a weed trimmer, and Malone, 22, scrubbed moss from the headstone.
This, they said, is their way of saluting veterans.
Liles estimated he and Malone have cleaned up 60 to 100 graves over two long afternoons at the Civil Bend Pioneer Cemetery. They figure one more session ought to finish the job, which sprang from boredom.
They were walking past the cemetery one day and decided to search for the oldest grave. Instead, they found neglected headstones and plots smothered by overgrown brush.
Malone said he was saddened by the condition of many of the graves.
“We want to make sure the families don’t have to see loved ones’ graves dirty and mossed over so they can’t recognize it,” Malone said.
Malone said he has family members who have served, and he thought about joining, but health problems got in the way.
“They wouldn’t allow me because of diabetes. I would be a liability,” he said.
Liles said he has not ruled out joining the service.
“I think about it quite often,” he said.
After cleaning each grave, Malone salutes it and says a prayer for the deceased.
“These people are the heroes of America and their graves are neglected. I wish younger people would come down and help out,” he said.
The longtime friends live in Winston. Malone works helping a couple sell merchandise on eBay. Liles picks up landscaping jobs.
The cemetery is home to 2,286 graves, with plots that go back to 1877.
Liles and Malone’s unauthorized cleanup campaign has received a lukewarm reception from the board that oversees the cemetery. Board member Bill Sullivan, who helps mow and weed the cemetery, said he was wary of someone working on a plot that did not belong to a family member.
“That’s fine if somebody wants to come in and help. They might be a liability. If someone gets hurt on the cemetery, the board could be sued,” Sullivan said.
He said family members are traditionally supposed to take care of their own plots.
“There are so many that don’t have ancestors left. It’s kind of up to the cemetery board to see that it doesn’t get completely overgrown,” he said.
He said many families used to take better care of their ancestors’ plots.
“It used to be a big deal with Labor Day and Memorial Day. The whole family went around and cleaned graveyards up,” he said. He estimated 20 to 30 families now go out to clean graves on the holidays.
Malone said he felt like he needed to show support for the troops any way he could, so he decided to clean the graves.
The two said they may clean the military graves at the Lookingglass Cemetery before Memorial Day.
• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“These people are the heroes of America and their graves are neglected. I wish younger people would come down and help out.”
— Raymond Malone