MONROE COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — A Monroe County man is doing his part to preserve history in East Tennessee.
Richard Holmes has been repairing, replacing and cleaning tombstones on the graves of veterans since he moved to Sweetwater in 2009. He has replaced stones all over Tennessee, including in Monroe, Loudon and McMinn Counties.
“I’ve had a love for the civil war, and then when I moved here I wanted to get involved in the community,” Holmes said. “So, I joined Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and our commander at the time said ‘You have to do something.’ I said ‘What do you want me to do?’ and he said ‘How about you be a graves registration officer.'”
He reached out to the Monroe County Archives for help, where Jo Stakely was working at the time.
“Richard came in the archives one day, and with me being married to a Vietnam veteran I was instantly interested in helping him and his project, which was marking any veterans’ grave,” Stakely said.
Stakely is now retired and works as the Monroe County historian but continues to help Holmes do research on the soldiers and their graves.
“In the archives, we have a database with all the cemeteries. Some of these are cemeteries that were read by volunteers even before the computer age,” Stakely said.
Holmes pays for each project himself and does the work on a voluntary basis.
“If I think they’re salvageable I’ll use something called D/2 Solution and that doesn’t hurt the stone and it doesn’t hurt the environment,” Holmes said. “If they’re in an unmarked grave, I’ll get them a new stone, if their stone is broken, I’ll replace it and get them another one.”
Holmes has been able to meet the ancestors of some of the veterans whose graves he’s restored.
“I think any veteran, just because he fought in an old war, still deserves a marker, you know they should not be in an unmarked grave. and a veterans’ benefit never runs out,” he said.
Holmes also credits White’s Marble Works in Madisonville for helping with the projects. He ships all of the new stones to their business.
He is raising money online to fund more stones and cleaning supplies.