Volunteers give vets a nicer place to rest in peace

Volunteers are making an annual habit of scrubbing headstones at graves of veterans at Washington Soldiers Home in Orting. (Courtesy photo)
Volunteers are making an annual habit of scrubbing headstones at graves of veterans at Washington Soldiers Home in Orting. (Courtesy photo)

For the last seven years, Bud Dyer and the Auburn Valley Wings, an Auburn-based motorcycle club, have donated time and supplies to clean up the Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery in Orting. The group annually is dedicated to making sure the cemetery looks its best right before the Memorial Day weekend.
Dyer said he approached the Soldiers Home administrators, telling them that the cemetery was in bad shape and his group would like to help.
“We did everything they couldn’t do by themselves. We raised headstones before they sunk,” he explained.
Now each year 50 to 70 members of the motorcycle group show up. “We make sure everything is spruced up. We bring our own supplies and provide labor, plants, bark and we feed the people who come out and work,” Dyer said.
This year, state Rep. Graham Hunt and other volunteers collaborated with the Auburn Valley Wings in a coordinated effort to spiff up the cemetery. It was appreciated by the Soldiers Home, said Heidi Audette, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We depend a lot on community support, and the cemetery in Orting is one of those things,” she said
Hunt, who serves the Second Legislative District in south Pierce County and lives in Orting, said he and his wife have visited the Soldiers Home for the last few years with their children. Hunt and his wife are veterans, and they have used the experience as a history teaching tool for their children.
One of the things that bothered them was the state of disrepair of the cemetery.
“The original purpose was for displaced homeless veterans from the Civil War, and later they established the cemetery,” Hunt said.
Keeping the gravesites in good repair and clean was quite a challenge. “Some of them lean left or right or go forward and some are really in bad shape,” said Hunt.
Hunt organized his group and they cleaned the headstones, working hard to remove all the mold and moss. A new cleaner, also used by the White House, was applied to the headstones.
“Since this was approved by the Veterans Affairs, we were allowed to use it for our event,” he said.
Hunt has created YouCaring.org and a fund-raising site to raise money to not just clean the headstones, but also to restore the cemetery.
“We want to preserve the trees without disrupting the remains of the soldiers. We have trees there that are probably close to 100 years old, and there is history in that,” he said.
YouCaring has raised $860 so far. Hunt said the goal is to raise $700,000.
“It is not just Washington soldiers that are buried here. They are from all over the U.S.,” said Hunt.
With 2,265 sites at the cemetery, the volunteers’ work was cut out for them at the cemetery. Hunt said both groups worked well together.
“What a blessing it was to have them there that day. Some of our volunteers helped them and some of their volunteers helped us,” he said.
Lunch was provided by the Auburn Noon Lions Club and Hunt Family Insurance, the business that Hunt owns.
“There is still a lot more work to do to get the cemetery to an area that truly is fitting to be honoring our veterans, but it is leaps and bounds forward from where it was,” Hunt said.

Joan Cronk, who wrote this article, is a freelance writer.