MILTON — Buzz Meachum and John Black describe being veterans of service to the United States as a brotherhood.
It’s that brotherhood which drew the two men together, and now has them undertaking an effort to spruce up the gravestones of those who served the nation decades ago.
About one year ago, Navy veteran Meachum saw a television program focusing on a veteran from the Midwest who was cleaning veterans’ graves. He took an interest in the cleaning process and realized he could apply what he learned in the program on a local level.
“I did the research to learn to do this right,” Meachum said. “You don’t use bleach. You don’t use a wire brush.”
To begin, Meachum started cleaning the gravestones of family members buried in Milton’s Harmony Cemetery.
Eventually, Meachum started cleaning veterans’ graves which he came across and recognized they needed some sprucing up. He’s cleaned graves in Montandon, Northumberland, Sunbury and Milton.
Through the process, Meachum learned of a circular area in Harmony Cemetery where approximately one dozen Civil War veterans are buried. He found their graves to be dirty, crooked and even knocked off of their foundations due to years of being exposed to the elements.
He said four to six of the veterans are believed to have been African American.
Soon after finding the gravestones, Meachum enlisted the help of Army veteran John Black in cleaning and fixing the graves. The two have been working on the project over the last several weeks.
Black is enrolled in the Northumberland County Veterans Treatment Court program. Meachum is his mentor, although the service project of fixing the graves is not part of the program.
Black, who lives in Sunbury, said he was enrolled in the treatment court as a result of some problems he had related to a substance abuse disorder. His substance abuse disorder developed as he overmedicated in an effort to combat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by events he experienced while serving abroad.
Meachum said he did not check with Milton borough officials prior to working on the gravestones. Harmony Cemetery is owned by the borough.
“You’re allowed to work on your family stones,” he said. “Since these guys are our brothers, it qualified.”
Black said he’s thankful for the veterans buried in Harmony Cemetery who served so many years ago, during the Civil War.
“I joined the military out of brotherhood,” he said, echoing Meachum’s statement that those veterans buried in the cemetery are their brothers.
To clean the graves, Meachum and Black sprays two coats of 30 Second Outdoor Cleaner on them.
Gorilla Glue is applied to reattach gravestones which have broken into two pieces. Once the glue is applied, Meachum and Black use stones and poles to hold them in place until the glue dries.
As Meachum and Black were recently working in Harmony Cemetery, The Improved Milton Experience (TIME) Executive Director George Venios visited to voice his organization’s support of the project.
“The TIME board would like to get involved in helping with this project,” Venios said.
He said the board is still evaluating ways to get involved, but noted it could include finding ways to assist with landscaping in the area and having a marker placed to explain the veterans buried at the site served during the Civil War.
He noted that any project TIME decides to do in the cemetery will have to be pre-approved by Milton borough.
Meachum praised the borough for the work it does in Harmony Cemetery.
“The town is doing a wonderful job of maintenance,” he said. “The grass is always mowed. The cemetery is well cared for.”
With winter approaching, Meachum said he will return to the site in the spring to make sure the restoration held up and to see if any further work is needed on the gravestones.