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Cleaning gravestones honors sacrifice, service

Veterans Service Officer Julie Barnes and Gene Theroux inspecting and accessing the broken headstone of Civil War veteran Eli P. Carter during the June, 2019 Clean-up Day. (Photo submitted)

WESTFIELD – Volunteers are needed to help clean monuments and headstones at Pine Hill Cemetery next Saturday.

Westfield Veterans Grave Officer Gene H. Theroux said clean-up events are organized twice each year, but volunteers can often be found working throughout the year.

“You may find volunteers there on any given day throughout the year, weather permitting,” said Theroux. “In addition to the restoration and preservation efforts, a big initiative is documentation, such as capturing GPS Burial Coordinates, condition of the gravestone, taking photographs, condition of the carvings and data base maintenance — updating cemetery records, and corrections and/or additions to Find A Grave.”

Thereux said volunteers will be trained on the job and special cleaning products are used to keep the integrity of the stones intact.

“The gravestones and monuments are cleaned using D/2 Biological Solution,” he said. “The D/2 Biological Solution is used by the National Park Service, used at the Supreme Court and the White House to name a few.”

Theroux said individuals can work independently on single footstones or markers, gravestones or they can work in pairs on larger headstones.

The gravestone of Civil War veteran Eli P. Carter, a Westfield farmer, who served both in the 31st Mass Infantry Regiment and with Company C, 27 Mass Infantry Regiment. His military gravestone was repaired and cleaned by Gene Theroux on June 4, 2019. (Photo submitted)

“We appreciate each and every volunteer,” he said. “An optimal number of volunteers would 18-24.  We can handle larger, but we want to ensure that the volunteers are provided instruction and limited supervision.”

The gravestones are inspected for safety and suitability prior to cleaning.

“We may have a team partnering to reset sunken military gravestones, for example, Civil War veteran headstones,” he said. “There is a large number of Civil War veterans interred in Pine Hill Cemetery (estimated to be over 300), a number of plots that were purchased by the Lyon Grand Army of the Republic Post 41 (Westfield) which are around the Civil War soldier monument at Pine Hill Cemetery. There is a number of Civil War veterans also interred at Saint Mary’s Cemetery on Southampton Road and in some of the other cemeteries within the city of Westfield.”

Theroux said at this time the clean-up is limited to Pine Hill Cemetery, however he plans to visit the other cemeteries in the city of Westfield where veterans are interred.

Theroux said there is no budget or line item in the city budget for the maintenance of Veterans gravesites.

“What we’ve been able to do so for has been through the generosity of donations such as from Veterans organizations, the Friends of Pine Hill Cemetery and Pine Hill Cemetery and I’ve spent a considerable amount of my personal income on supplies, materials and equipment,” said Theroux.

Theroux said people have a responsibility to preserve the history of those who served and sacrificed.

“Some of these service members gave all and some never returned,” he said. “There is a number of cenotaphs of heroes who did not return and some of them, their remains weren’t found.  It’s important that their service and sacrificed is not forgotten – preserving their gravestone is a small token of thank you.”

Volunteers should meet Sept. 28 at 8 a.m. at the Pine Hill Cemetery Hubbard Street gate across from Bullens Field. The Clean Up Day will run 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Theroux said volunteers can work as little or as long as they wish to participate and will be provided instructions upon arrival. All supplies will be provided.

This Clean Up Day is sponsored by City of Westfield Graves Officer Gene Theroux; co-sponsors Dale Dickson, superintendent of Pine Hill Cemetery and the Friends of Pine Hill Cemetery.





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