“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them – George Eliot”. These words both move and motivate the staff and those that visit the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. On the hollowed grounds of the cemetery lie the remains of approximately 70,000 individuals who are either veterans or loved ones of those that served. As part of the service project class assignment, the Leadership in Training (LIT) Class 8 cleaned the headstones of soldiers and AZDPS family members.
Kristofer Lee, a LIT 8 student, proposed this service project. Kris lost his brother, a Navy Seal, Marc Lee, in Iraq approximately 12 years ago. The class suggested several worthy choices for the service project, however, when Kris spoke of his brother’s sacrifice to our country and how we could all honor our veterans by cleaning their headstones, the group was united. On the day of service, Kris read his brother’s last letter home (https://americasmightywarriors.org/marcs-last-letter-home/) which moved many to tears. Through the LIT class and the volunteers’ efforts, approximately three hundred headstones, including those requested by AZDPS employees were thoroughly cleaned by hand.
The Department has a large contingent of current and former military members as well as family members of soldiers. It was no surprise that there was an abundance of support by the Department when the service project was publicized. The twenty-five LIT 8 classmates were joined by other volunteers including Mrs. Patt Ficere, LIT Program Facilitator, Lt. Col. Tim Chung, Inspector Dennis Young, Ms. Fran Garcia (LIT 1), Sgt. Todd Pattee (LIT 2), Sgt. Felipe Solis, Jr. (LIT 4), Sarah Casey (wife of LIT 8 Trooper Sean Casey) and Mackenzie Politico and Katelynn Hisle (wife and stepdaughter of LIT 8 Trooper Jeff Politico).
A special thank you to the Fraternal Order of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police Associates who each graciously donated $100 to assist with the service project; and to LIT 8 student Melanie Puckett and her grandfather, Roy Curry, who provided the roses that were laid on the graves as they were cleaned.
Prior to beginning the work, grounds supervisor Charles Reed provided the LIT group with guidance as well as a historical background to National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. The immaculately kept grounds began as a State Cemetery in 1976 and was changed to a National Cemetery in the mid 1980’s. The North Phoenix location is currently going through an expansion and does not anticipate reaching its capacity until approximately 2053. The National Cemetery of Arizona is one of 136 National Cemeteries, yet it is the only National Cemetery that coordinates military honors for funerals.
Those who are interested in assisting can help in numerous ways. The cemetery will always welcome volunteers. The demand is especially high during holidays like Memorial Day when a U.S. flag is placed on every single grave. The National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona’s website is https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/nmca.asp the phone number is 480-513-3600. One can find ways to assist others by visiting https://americasmightywarriors.org/. The experience of helping to clean the headstones at the National Cemetery was truly a humbling experience. The LIT 8 class was appreciative to help and remember and recognize many of our nation’s heroes who served as well as their family members.