A day after the nation pauses to honor fallen soldiers, Beaufort National Cemetery will begin work on a nine-month, $2.5 million project to beautify its gravesites.
Crews will work to realign, raise and clean nearly 18,000 headstones at Beaufort's Civil War-era cemetery that serves as the final resting place for more than 19,000 service members and their spouses from every major American conflict. A contractor from North Carolina will begin the project Tuesday by laying sod inside the cemetery's original 25 acres along Boundary Street. The cemetery now spans more than 40 acres.
Bernie Bowse, director of Beaufort National Cemetery, said thebeautification project pays veterans' gravesites the proper respect.
"National cemeteries are considered national shrines for the service member and their families, just like the Lincoln Memorial," he said.
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"Every headstone is that veteran's Lincoln Memorial. In keeping with the national shrine philosophy that we espouse, the (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) sets aside money every year to raise, realign and clean headstones. This has never been done here before, so it's a major project."
After the sod is down, Bowse said, crews will clean the headstones with a soluble bleach-based solution before raising them and realigning the grave markers section-by-section.
"The headstones don't sink that much because of our sandy soil," he said. "What we really need to do is realign the headstones. There is supposed to be 1/8 inch between headstones and they are supposed to be aligned horizontally. The headstones tip and tilt and need to be realignedperiodically.
"Even in our new section, we occasionally have to go back there and give the headstones a little bump to align them," he said. "It just happens naturally because of the weight of the stone."
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, said the project will give those buried in Beaufort the respect they deserve.
"This funding is in accordance with a now decade-old initiative to ensure that our national cemeteries are maintained at a quality that recognizes their role as national shrines," said Wilson, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Beaufort County. "The grounds at the Beaufort National Cemetery are in need of maintenance in order to preserve the headstones that mark the graves of the brave men and women who served this nation."
In addition to applauding the federal government's decision to fund the cemetery's beautification, Wilson introduced legislation earlier this year to expand Beaufort National Cemetery.
The measure would allow the VA to purchase the five-acre Lafayette Square apartment complex at 2200 Lafayette St., north of Beaufort National Cemetery. Another bill calls for the agency to conduct a land availability study and report its findings.