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Restoring honor

Employee maintains veterans’ headstones

Kneeling man scrubs headstone
Clarence Hollowell, a Wilson, NC, letter carrier, cleans the headstones of military veterans in his free time. Image: Drew C. Wilson / The Wilson Times

Letter Carrier Clarence Hollowell was delivering mail as usual to a cemetery in Wilson, NC, about a year ago when several headstones caught his eye.

“I saw how dirty and dingy they were,” Hollowell said.

On closer inspection, he realized the headstones marked the burial sites of military veterans. Their condition upset Hollowell, an Army veteran whose father and three brothers also served in the military.

After researching how to properly clean headstones, Hollowell took matters into his own hands — literally. During the past year, he’s used his free time to clean more than 550 headstones.

“Cemeteries do a great job as far as keeping the headstones in good order. But some headstones are 100 years old, so Mother Nature takes effect,” he said.

Hollowell uses a soft brush to carefully scrub each headstone. Most stones take 30 minutes or so to clean, but others can take as long as four months.

Each headstone holds a story.

One example: a University of North Carolina student who quit school, married his girlfriend, entered the military and became a pilot. The young man was killed in an accident on his mother’s birthday in 1944.

“I think his mother’s birthday was never the same after that,” Hollowell said.

Wilson Postmaster Kimberly Pittman praised Hollowell’s efforts.

“His willingness to take his time to restore the headstones of his comrades shows his commitment to our veterans and our country. We at the Postal Service commend him for his service and welcome it with pride,” she said.

Randy Manning, a customer services supervisor, called Hollowell’s efforts “very thoughtful, commendable and respectful.”

Hollowell said restoring neglected headstones is his way of honoring those who died while serving their country.

“When we see something in society that’s just wrong, we can make it better if we are willing to step forward,” he said.

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