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Army of volunteers works to preserve veterans' final resting place

By Anna-Lysa Gayle, CNN
updated 8:28 PM EDT, Mon July 9, 2012
Volunteers work to preserve the land surrounding thousands of grave sites Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Volunteers work to preserve the land surrounding thousands of grave sites Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Professional Landcare Network hosts its 16th annual Renewal & Remembrance
  • Volunteers work for a day to preserve Arlington National Cemetery's grounds
  • "The opportunity to be able ... to preserve something, that really means a lot," says a veteran

Arlington, Virginia (CNN) -- A volunteer army gathered Monday at Arlington National Cemetery to devote its best efforts toward preserving the final resting place of those who devoted their lives to their country.

The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) hosted its 16th annual Renewal & Remembrance beautification project at the sprawling cemetery. Scores of lawn and landscape professionals, joined by hundreds of volunteers including children as young as 3, spent the day working on the preservation of land surrounding thousands of grave sites.

"The opportunity to be able to come out, to give back, to preserve something, that really means a lot, not only (to me) as a veteran, but it means a lot to these volunteers," said veteran Tim Price, who fought in Iraq.

Shelby Wanzor, a soon-to-be fifth-grader from Atlanta, was among the young volunteers and she, by virtue of an essay she wrote, got the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

"My Grandfather, Aubrey Wanzor, was a crew chief for B-17s and B-25s in World War II. My Uncle John was trained as a medical doctor and a Captain in the Army. I also have a lot of other relatives who fought in the wars," noted Shelby in her essay, which was among the winning writings in PLANET's second annual Renewal & Remembrance essay contest.

Shelby's mother, Elizabeth Wanzor, said volunteer work at Arlington National Cemetery gives children "a chance to see history and a chance to see people who died for our freedom ... The kids are the future of our country, and it's important for them to see what's going on."

Young volunteers were tasked Monday with planting milkweed because, as Shelby Wanzor noted, "It attracts monarch butterflies."

The professionals among the volunteers spread fertilizer and lime over Arlington National's acres of turf and worked with the cemetery's thousands of trees and plants.

"In addition to the fertilization, and the spreading of lime, we do tree work here, to protect the trees from lightening by cabling them, making them stronger and resisting wind and other storm factors. It's a very complete service," said PLANET president Norman Goldenberg.

No matter what the tasks, the volunteers were ever mindful of where they were and why.

"There are probably 20 to 30 funerals a day that take place here, and we have to stop and recognize them as they pass by," said Goldenberg. "Some have bands that are associated with them and (with) some their coffins are on caissons, and it is so very touching to see the people that have given their lives for what we have today, the freedoms and liberties that we enjoy. That's why we have no problem getting people here as volunteers."

Landscaper Matt Owens was among those volunteers, joined by two of his children.

"This is something that I hope to be making an annual event here now," Owens said. "And I think the kids are having a great time. It's just an important aspect of being able to give back to the industry, to the veterans."

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