Community unites to repair rundown veterans cemetery

Community unites to repair rundown veterans cemetery
BREMERTON, Wash. - A community has come together to right what they say is a wrong - and now a veterans' cemetery in Bremerton is finally getting the care it so desperately needs.

Retired Marine John Pursley inspired this clean-up when he finally complained about the condition of Bremerton's Ivy Green Cemetery, where hundreds of military veterans are buried, including the remains of one man in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"For all the things these folks have done to serve us and our country, we're out here to give a tiny piece back," he says.

Pursley explains that he brought his grandson to the cemetery a couple of years ago to show him the tomb of the unknown. When he saw the rundown condition of the cemetery, he says, "I was really embarrassed."

Now he and a large group of volunteers are toiling in the heat, doing manual labor that takes a strong back - all in an effort to restore the cemetery to a better condition.

"Everybody buried here is a better man than me," says Pursley. "We should take care of our veterans."

Tall weeds, moss and dirt cover fading paint at the tomb of the unknown. And it wasn't just the tomb. Many of the other military grave markers were in equally bad shape, including some that were broken and toppled by vandals.

Community activist Todd Best heard about the rundown condition of Ivy Green Cemetery from Pursley.

"I went from being sad, to ultimately mad," says Best.

Anger can be a powerful motivator. So Best put out the call for help, and more than 200 people showed up.

"It overwhelms me," says Best.

The first volunteer to arrive got to the cemetery before Best did.

"There was an elderly gentleman at the gate waiting to come in," he says. "This guy was a World War II vet, a Korean War vet, and he's walking with an oxygen container. He says, 'How can I help, Todd?'"

Now the effort is going far beyond a cleanup. Organizers are working to renovate the entire tomb and surrounding grounds - to create a sacred place, worthy of those buried here.

Organizers cannot accept money, but they are asking for donations of materials and professional labor to build their new Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial.

"To the ones who have served, I guess, in a way, letting them know they aren't forgotten, either," he says.