Grassroots volunteers seek to save historic Naval cemetery

Matt Saintsing
September 06, 2017 - 9:10 am

Courtesy Myrna Hayes


The decaying Mare Island Naval Cemetery in Northern California is set to get a face-lift, thanks to a group of concerned volunteers.

A grassroots movement launched The Friends of the Historic Mare Island Naval Cemetery & Restoration Committee Facebook page on Aug. 12, in hopes of attracting volunteers to begin cleaning up the unkempt cemetery in Vallejo, Calif.  The group's first refurbishment work will be a National Day of Service project on Sept. 11.

Tina Chechourka, a volunteer coordinator for Solano County, began the effort to help after reading's reporting on the cemetery's disheveled condition. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to show how much interest this cemetery has to people in Vallejo and Solano County,” says Chechourka.

For now, there is only so much the volunteers will be able to do.  The cemetery's status as a historic landmark limits, for instance, who can repair tombstones, and how.  But Chechourka is optimistic about what can be done

Courtesy Myrna Hayes

“We can, as concerned citizens, come in and clean-up,” says Chechourka. “We can do some raking, sweeping, and weed-eating, and we can also paint some fences to give it a fresh look.”

The City of Vallejo — which owns the property, but has been hampered by economic difficulties in maintaining it — is now working to help with the beautification.  Bob Sampayan, the city's mayor, is planning to be at the September 11 clean-up event.  “We have also received calls from Washington, D.C. about their desire to move forward with a permanent plan for maintenance,” says Sampayan.

Checkourka expects 30-40 volunteers but says she’ll take 100 if they show up.

The cemetery has also gained national attention.

Courtesy Myrna Hayes

“We want to get this cemetery restored to something a little more respectful,” says Qawnana Crocket, executive director of the Navy League, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

“As a veteran, it is a disgrace and it is sad.”

Ralph Parrott, a retired Navy captain who stumbled upon the cemetery while visiting the Bay area, says he is excited about the publicity and grassroots organizing surrounding the historic cemetery.

“The next big event is the proposal that the City of Vallejo will be sending to the Department of Defense,” says Parrott. “That is a very big deal.”

The proposal—due Sept. 30—could allow the DoD innovative readiness training (IRT) teams to provide maintenance and preservation of the cemetery, including potentially repairing headstones—a task that is currently prohibited.