More than 120 Army trainees spent a day recently volunteering their time by cleaning the grounds at Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin, OK. The trainees cleaned headstones, pulled weeds and other maintenance activities around the final resting place for thousands of Veterans.

The program is called “Honor the Fallen” and Army trainees from Fort Sill volunteer their time to assist the cemetery staff with beautification of the grounds. This event was the first one in almost two years due to COVID restrictions.

“Today we’re having a joint cooperation with the Department of the Army to bring out privates in basic training so they can see what we do at a VA National Cemetery,” said David Van Meter, director, Fort Gibson and Fort Sill National Cemeteries. “They are helping facilitate cleaning efforts to help maintain our VA cemetery as a national shrine. Due to COVID, the event had been suspended for a few years, and we hope to now make it a recurring event each year.”

One of the trainees, Walter Mendez-Neri, is the first in his family to join the military and said this day was extremely important to him.

“I’m out here to give back to those who have come before me,” said Mendez-Neri. “It’s a great honor to do something for people who have given us the foundation that we have today and give thanks to all they have fought for.”

Matthew Priest, assistant director, Fort Gibson and Fort Sill National Cemeteries, spoke with the trainees about the Veterans honored at the cemetery.

“It’s not just a letter on a stone. That’s somebody’s mother, father, brother, sister, it could be one of your loved ones,” said Priest. “Take time to reflect and read the monuments while you on the grounds. Some served in faraway lands; some did incredible things later in their civil service career; and some started their own businesses paving the way for others and families.”

Army trainees volunteer and clean the grounds at the Fort Sill National Cemetery.

Michael Wilson, Fort Sill National Cemetery automotive mechanic and Army Veteran, welcomed the trainees’ help and said they accomplished about two-year’s worth of work in one day.

“This is a great opportunity and it’s super important, not only for these young soldiers to come out here and see what it is we do, but also to see what they’re going to become eligible for later in their life,” said Van Meter. “What a special event and an even better partnership.”

Located in Elgin, Oklahoma, the 391-acre Fort Sill National Cemetery was dedicated on Nov. 2, 2001. Since that time, the cemetery has conducted more than 8,000 interments of Veterans and eligible dependents.

VA offers a new way to pay tribute to Veterans on the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM) website. The site, originally launched in 2019, contains a memorial page for each Veteran and service member interred in a VA national cemetery. The online tribute allows visitors to voice memories and appreciation for a Veteran’s service. All comments will be reviewed for appropriateness prior to being posted.

For more information, call 800-535-1117 or visit

By Jennifer Roy is a public affairs specialist for the Dallas Regional Office of Public Affairs

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Published on Oct. 20, 2021

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