FORT STEWART, Ga. — “Give this lady a grave to be proud of,” said Adrien Dorsin, 12, as he and six of his classmates scrubbed down a headstone Sept. 25 at Taylors Creek Cemetery on Fort Stewart, honoring National Public Lands Day.
Children of Kessler, Murray and Diamond elementary schools and other volunteers cleaned historic headstones and learned proper care and cleaning of various grave markers, said Brian Greer, an archaeologist with the Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division, Prevention and Compliance Branch.
“These are really the only visual reminders of the history of what Fort Stewart was before it was Fort Stewart,” Greer said. “Even before we say anything, we see [the children] recognize the importance of proper care and respect for the resources.”
National Public Lands Day is observed each year on the last Saturday in September. The day is the nation's largest single-day volunteer event for public lands and brings together hundreds of thousands of volunteers nationwide to help restore America's public lands.
“It’s a day of volunteer work to get people out of their houses and out into the public lands,” Greer said.
Throughout the day, the children helped clean approximately 100-150 headstones. The remainder of the nearly 450 headstones in the cemetery were either deemed too fragile for cleaning or were completed during another cleanup held in July.
The initial cleanup stemmed from a request from Col. Bryan Logan, Fort Stewart garrison commander, to provide more outdoor activities for Marne Families during the pandemic. The July event was such a success that both DFMWR and DPW Environmental decided to do it again for National Public Lands Day, Greer said.
Greer told the children, the most important part of headstone cleaning is, “ … to do no harm.”
Nick Moise, Fort Stewart School-Age Center facility director, said the children were given a history of the town and how things were before it was a military installation.
“We want to give them a picture of history and how the world changes,” Moise said.
The children bounced from headstone to headstone in groups or on their own to perform the duties. Some would occasionally discuss among themselves the possible stories of the people who laid below their feet.
“They’ve done a great job,” Greer said. “One thing we see them take away is respect - respect for their community and respect for the past.”
“Taylors Creek was a small village that stood at the junction of Canoochee and Taylors creeks, the area now occupied by Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field,” Greer said. “Each fall, Taylors Creek’s heritage returns to Fort Stewart when former residents and their descendants visit the cemeteries to hold annual meetings and religious services.”
Darcy Flowers, president of the board of directors of the Taylors Creek Cemetery Association, said the event will segue nicely into the upcoming self-guided tour of the cemeteries this year, as the usual gathering cannot be held due to the pandemic.
“We’ve always appreciated how Fort Stewart takes care of [the cemetery] and honors what we honor,” Flowers said. “The reason we carry on getting together once a year is to remember the town that was here. Some of our members grew up here. Just to be involved in this makes it that much more special.”