Volunteers interested in cleaning headstones in national cemeteries can sign up for a National Day of Service to be held in 65 locations Sept. 10.

All volunteers interested in participating in the National Day of Service should sign up at Carry the Load register.

Volunteers should click here to sign up for National Day of Service

Most events begin at 10 a.m., with the exception of Quantico, Alexandria, Culpeper and Baltimore National Cemeteries, which begin at 9 a.m. Upon arrival at the national cemetery, volunteers are asked to assemble at the main flagpole for a brief ceremony followed by instructions about national cemetery protocols and headstone cleaning. A special feature to the event is the ability for volunteers to post tributes and photos on VA’s Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM).

“The National Day of Service is an inspiring way to bring into focus the lives lost in the terrorist attacks on our country,” said Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, Matt Quinn. “As we reflect on the tragic events of 20 years ago, it is also appropriate to remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives throughout the Global War on Terror. Volunteering to assist with beautification projects to keep our cemeteries at national shrine standards is a fitting tribute to thank all of our brave heroes for their sacrifices on our behalf.”

This year, VA’s National Cemetery Administration is partnering with several different organizations including Carry The Load, AmeriCorps, Partnership for Public Service, RallyPoint-The Military Network, Hunter Seven, VA Office of Information Technology and VA Center for Development and Civic Engagement (Voluntary Service) to help spread the word about the National Day of Service.

COVID-19 information

All VA national cemeteries remain open and continue to provide interment services for Veterans and eligible dependents during this health crisis. VA national cemeteries have adapted operational procedures throughout the pandemic to prevent the spread of coronavirus based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The CDC issued new guidance requiring all individuals to wear a mask indoors in areas where the transmission rate is High or Substantial, regardless of vaccination status.

In accordance with this guidance, signage will be posted at each public entrance at VA national cemeteries if face masks are required in the cemetery’s indoor facilities. All employees and visitors, vaccinated or not, must wear masks in Federal buildings and indoor spaces if so directed.

Read more important COVID-19 cemetery requirements

List of Participating VA National Cemeteries:

Volunteers should click here to sign up for National Day of Service

More information

Among the nearly 3,000 Americans who lost their lives are 47 military service members and dependents who are interred in 15 VA national cemeteries across the country. The September 11 victims are permanently memorialized in this short video NCA Remembers September 11, 2001.

The Veterans Legacy Memorial was launched in May 2019 to extend the memorialization of more than 3.9 million Veterans interred in VA cemeteries, Veterans such as September 11 victim Edward Martinez buried at Calverton National Cemetery.

Volunteers are encouraged to post tributes or photos as a “Visitor” to a Veteran’s memorial page while at the VA cemetery for the National Day of Service. Those not able to attend in person on Sept. 10 are still encouraged to visit VLM and post tributes or photos to a loved one’s page.

In a May 2020 video, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said, “One great way to pay virtual tribute is with a visit to the Veterans Legacy Memorial website.”

FEMA is offering a COVID-19 Funeral Assistance reimbursement program. For more information please visit: FEMA FAQ.


Information courtesy National Cemetery Administration.

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20 Comments

  1. Paul Cisar September 8, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    Agree, with comments about short notice. This would be a great opportunity for youth groups. Consider posting 30+ days in advance and doing these cleanings more than once a year potentially, on a weekend. Wreaths Across America is such a great event for youth this could be another similar opportunity to involve them.

  2. Donald Tripp September 8, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    Try “wet it and forget it” sprayed on the head stones. It’s a great product that takes mold and mildew off of stone surfaces. There is no blech in it. And not abrasive.

  3. Ryan September 8, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    The link is broken, so I am not able to register. I am very interested in participating.

  4. Jeff September 8, 2021 at 11:01 am

    So are the supplies provided or not? Can anyone tell me how long it takes? I certainly want to accomplish the task at hand but would have to leave about 1400-1415 to pick up my daughter from school.

  5. National Cemetery Administration Public Affairs September 8, 2021 at 10:39 am

    VAntage Point readers – I’m seeing a lot of comments asking about the proper way to clean a headstone. Thanks for asking!

    The National Cemetery Administration recommends soft natural or nylon bristle brushes (no plastic or metal bristles) and clean water be used to clean headstones. Buckets, spray bottles, or hand/backpack-sprayers should be used – not power washers, which may harm the stone. Cleaning solution should be used only if needed, and only after following the manufacturers’ instructions. You can learn more from our fact sheet, found here: https://www.cem.va.gov/docs/factsheets/Cleaning_Headstones_Markers.pdf There are links in the fact sheet to videos created by conservators from the National Park Service which are also a great resource to learn from.

    For volunteers this Friday, cleaning supplies will be made available by the participating cemetery. For those who wish to clean headstones in any cemetery, public or private, we advise you to please get permission first from the owners/operators of the cemetery before you do so.

    Thanks – National Cemetery Administration

  6. Katherine Bostick September 7, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    Could someone explain to me what a Non-ionic detergent is and what a Biocidal cleaning solution is? I certainly don’t want to ruin any gravestones by using the wrong cleaning solution.

  7. Katherine Bostick September 7, 2021 at 10:48 pm

    There should have been a comment to the public that there are other cemeteries that contain the remains of veterans. I cannot travel to one of the National Cemeteries, but I intend to clean the graves of our local veterans resting near my home. And a big Thank You to Shawn Brown for the information on supplies needed and the process for correctly cleaning the gravesites.

  8. Mark Andrew Flanigan September 7, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    No options for Arlington National Cemetary?

  9. James Houston September 7, 2021 at 4:56 pm

    I would consider doing this an honor. But I cannot participate this Friday. Three days notice is too short, I would prefer 2-3 weeks noticeI to be sure I can participate. This time I have appointments I just cannot cancel. Sorry.

  10. Larry E Barnes September 7, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Yes. We would like info on how to clean the headstones. Noticed the Veterans cemetery in Jacksonville, Mo and Higginsville, Mo are NOT on the list but probably should be. These are rural areas but they have several headstones as well as the cremation area that could be tended to. Thank you.

  11. Ed Tinoco September 7, 2021 at 11:47 am

    the links to sign up on this page are not working correctly. I get an error.

  12. Ryan Denison September 7, 2021 at 11:29 am

    A little more notice on events like this would be nice. I just got this in my email from the VA today, the 7th. It happens in 3 days. It is hard to make arrangements for an event like this in that short amount of time.
    Also, I was an engineer at a company that sold media blasting supplies and equipment, amongst other things. I am sure I could have bought a pallet of baking soda media at cost for this project. I could have brought it, my compressor, generator, and soda blaster to a site and cleaned hundreds of headstones.

  13. Shawn Brown September 7, 2021 at 10:52 am

    Supplies Needed For Cleaning Headstones
    First, you’ll need some cleaning supplies to get started. Supplies vary based on the gravestone material. Here, we’ll go over what you’ll need for marble, granite, and bronze headstones.

    Marble Headstones
    Clean water
    Soft-bristle brush
    Ammonium hydroxide detergent or household ammonia mixed (1 oz per gallon of water)
    Gloves
    Sponge
    Spray bottle
    Granite, Sandstone, Slate Headstones
    Clean water
    Soft-bristle brush
    Non-ionic detergent (1 oz per gallon of water)
    Biocidal cleaning solution
    Gloves
    Sponge
    Spray bottle

    Assess The Headstone
    First and foremost, assess the condition of the headstone. If it shows signs of flaking, crumbling or cracking, then avoid using hard-thistle brushes, do not scrape, and avoid power washing. Be sure to avoid using bleach because it causes brown staining over time. Sandstone, slate, and marble gravestones will gradually deteriorate after cleaning, so they should be thoroughly cleaned every 7-10 years, and no more.

    Marble headstones should only be cleaned if they are in decent condition. If too much cracking or damage decay is present, attempting to clean it could cause further irreparable harm.

    How To Clean Marble Headstones
    Soak: Soak the stone by spraying it down with a hose or dumping a bucket of clean water over the entire surface. Headstones can be very porous and can soak up the cleaning solution before it has a chance to work. Spraying down the headstone first will help maximize the effectiveness of the cleaning solution.
    Mix: Dilute ammonium hydroxide (use with caution) 1:4 with water when cleaning light colored stones. This is particularly effective for the removal of biological growth. Make sure you are rinsing thoroughly with clean, fresh water.
    Apply: Use a brush to gently apply the soap/water mixture. Test your solution in an inconspicuous area first, this will ensure that you get the desired results once dried.
    Scrub: With a soft-bristle brush, gently scrub the headstone in orbital motion from bottom to top. Avoid any cracks or flakes when scrubbing. You may want to avoid cleaning the entire stone if there is an excessive amount of scratches or flaking.
    Rinse: Avoid pressure washing the stone. Always rinse the stone from bottom to top to avoid streaking. Rinse with a hose or bucket of water with clean, fresh water until the stone is clear of any cleaning solution.
    Be sure to keep the headstone wet throughout the procedure.

    Repeat this process every 2 years for thorough cleaning, although normal dirt and residue may be removed simply with water and nothing else.

    How To Clean Granite Headstones
    Soak: Soak the stone with a hose or by dumping a bucket of clean water over the entire surface. Headstones can be very porous and can soak up the cleaning solution before it has a chance to work. Spraying down the headstone first will help maximize the effectiveness of the cleaning solution.
    Mix: Non-ionic detergents are generally recommended for cleaning granite headstones. Mix just one-ounce of non-ionic detergent to 5 gallons of water.
    Apply: Use a brush to gently apply the cleaning solution. Always test the solution to ensure the best results after the area has dried.
    Scrub: With a soft-bristle brush, gently scrub the headstone in an orbital motion from bottom to top. Avoid any cracks or flakes when scrubbing. Avoid cleaning the entire stone if there is an excessive amount of scratches or flaking.
    Rinse: Always rinse the stone from bottom to top to avoid streaking. Rinse with a hose or bucket of water with clean, fresh water until the stone is clear of any cleaning solution.

  14. Dan Sarandrea September 7, 2021 at 10:49 am

    And it would be nice to know if the cemetery staff is going to provide all necessary supplies or if you should bring supplies like soap, brushes, rags, or personal protective things like household chore gloves, eye protection (if using a power washer or strong chemicals), or if you should wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty (although that should be common sense for something like this).

    Would it have been too hard to make an official headstone cleaning video and post it on YouTube, so people can get an idea of what they will be expected to do? That way they can make a better-informed decision on whether they are suited to this particular volunteer task. It is 2021 after all.

  15. Clay Allan Coker September 5, 2021 at 10:37 am

    The VA would prefer that all veterans were dead and buried.

    • Shawn Brown September 7, 2021 at 10:57 am

      This is a very unproductive and worthless statement.
      It is shameful for you to post such a statement.

      Many dedicated and caring people work at the VA, including my daughter who care deeply about US Veterans.

      I’m a US Veteran, severely disabled from service. As hard as it is, the VA works with me and local community care doctors to do their best to care for me.

  16. Duane Danner September 4, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    Just stopped yesterday at Fort Snelling National cemetery in Minnesota, on my way back to Arizona . My fathers headstone with many others are turning black. what a disgrace to our service men and women. if I new how to clean the head stones are would donate time the next time thru to help clean up these sacred markers.

    Thanks

  17. stephen tuttle September 4, 2021 at 10:32 am

    It would have been nice if there were information left on the proper way to clean headstones so that those of us not in the loop can clean the headstones of
    veterans in our area!!!

    • Lee R. Fields September 7, 2021 at 10:47 am

      Stephen is right: I was looking for the information on how to clean headstones, and also would the materials be provided or “bring your own.” Could not find scanning! You can do irreparable damage to headstones if you use certain chemicals and/or abrasive items such as steel brushes, spatulas or sharp scrapers, etc..

      • Sarah September 7, 2021 at 1:29 pm

        I agree, although I think the purpose of having participating cemetaries is so that they are there to instruct people how to properly do it and provide supplies. I don’t think it’s wise to advise people to go to random cemetaries and do this work themselves as you stated. The risk of damage is too much. Maybe we could all reach out to our local memorials and let them know about this opportunity so they can get signed up for next year’s event. :)

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