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 From 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. May 5 and May 12,  the Royal Oak Memorial  Society will invite  volunteers to  help clean  veterans’ graves at Oakview Cemetery.

From 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. May 5 and May 12, the Royal Oak Memorial Society will invite volunteers to help clean veterans’ graves at Oakview Cemetery.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

Volunteers to clean veterans’ graves at Oakview Cemetery

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published May 1, 2018


ROYAL OAK — From 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. May 5 and May 12, the Royal Oak Memorial Society is inviting the public to help clean veterans’ graves at Oakview Cemetery.

The cleaning will take place in preparation for placing flags at approximately 2,500 graves at 10 a.m. May 26, in time for observance of Memorial Day on May 28.

In case of poor or rainy weather, the makeup day will take place May 19.

Carol Hennessey, of the Royal Oak Memorial Society, said the group has cleaned veterans’ graves at the cemetery for the last 20 years and will supply garbage bags.

“We’re asking you to bring garden tools, like hand tools, to clean around the headstones, rags and water,” she said. “What we like to do is take all the grass away from the headstone and then pour water on them to clean them, because they’re pretty muddy and stuff over the past winter.”

She said she came up with the idea when she stepped in a hole and twisted her ankle while trying to place a flag at a grave.

“When I did, it kind of moved the grass away and a headstone was underneath there,” she said. “I cleaned it off and I looked, and it happened to be a veteran’s headstone, so I said, ‘Maybe we should come and clean these headstones first.’”

She said the cemetery staff was on board, and the cleaning efforts have grown every year.

“We’ve been getting more and more people, which is really neat,” she said. “We get a lot of Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who come out, along with church organizations. They can cover a lot of territory.”

After the cleanups, Hennessey said, volunteers should place the garbage bags at the edge of the road, and the cemetery will come pick them up.

The public, she said, is also welcome and is encouraged to help the Royal Oak Memorial Society place flags at the graves May 26. She said they also provide some Canadian flags for Canadian veterans who are buried at the cemetery.

“On the Saturday before Memorial Day, my husband and I always drive through the cemetery after the parade,” Hennessey said. “It’s breathtaking, and I get tears in my eyes just to see all the flags blowing out there. I’m so thankful that we’re able to do something small for the veterans.”

Lifetime Royal Oak resident Dorothy Harrington, a member of the Royal Oak Memorial Society and Daughters of the American Revolution Three Flags Chapter, has participated in the cleanup and flag placing events since their inception.

She said she enjoys her involvement in veterans affairs so that people will not forget the sacrifices that so many made to keep the country safe.

“Many of the veterans (laid to rest at the cemetery) don’t have relatives that ever come,” she said. “My father, before I was born, was in World War I, and my brother served in World War II. Fortunately, they returned safely, but we must not forget the ones that gave their lives.”

Some of the veterans buried at the cemetery date back to long ago, she said.

“It’s interesting to go and see the different ones and what branch of the service they were in,” she said. “There is an area way in the back that is just veterans, but they’re all over the whole cemetery, which is why it takes us so long to do all of them.”

She said volunteers have to walk around and read each headstone.

“I’m 82 and can’t do as much as I used to, but I do what I can,” Harrington said. “I’m there for every ceremony and pass out the programs, and if it’s a really nice day, I can work on the cleaning up too.”

Ashley Strohmeyer, family service manager at Oakview Cemetery, said more than 60,000 people are buried at the cemetery.

“We are very excited that this program has been going on for the last two decades,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful event. A lot of volunteers come out and it’s wonderful to see the community respect the veterans in a manner they deserve to be respected and remembered.”

She said veterans buried in the cemetery, which opened in 1911, date back to at least World War I.

“The more people that come out to help, the better it’s going to be,” Strohmeyer said. “They do place so many flags out there. It’s just a wonderful sight.”

Oakview Cemetery is located at 1032 N. Main St., south of 12 Mile Road.

For more information, call (248) 543-8420.