Florida man honors veterans by scrubbing -- one grave at a time

- Andrew Lumish spends his free time with heroes who are no longer with us.

"You walk through these cemeteries and there's generations of soldiers who fought for the rights we enjoy today," he explained.

When he has a day off from work, he cleans the headstones of veterans.

"Now that they're gone, they're ignored. And not only are they ignored, they're neglected," he continued.

So, he washes away that neglect to uncover a piece of American history.

On this day, he was at Woodlawn Cemetery in Tampa. He chose Chauncey Wells, a soldier who fought in the Civil War. Mr. Wells' died 113 years ago, meaning over a century's worth of dirt and sediment has settled on to his headstone.

"I clean these monuments for the purpose of being able to tell a story, so that people can see and view the individuals who are buried here and once lived amongst us," Lumish said.

He digs deep into the lives of soldiers who served our country, to shed light on not only their military service, but who they were as people. 

"I try to bring the living person -- who's no longer living -- back to life. To understand that it's not just a rock, it's not just a piece of stone, but it's a human being that's under there and they had a life, they had a family, they had children that loved them. They served their country," he said. "They allowed you the rights to speak up and do the things that you do and become whatever you want to become.

"I'm not just doing a restoration,” he continued, “I am going to tell a life story about someone of historical importance. They may have fought in some battles that we've all read about in our history books and had some incredible experiences and interactions over their lifetime that we uncover."

Lumish has restored more than 500 monuments, each taking about two months from start to finish. It takes several applications of cleaning solution to make these headstones look like new again.

He scrubs away the filth, on his own time, to deliver the respect soldiers deserve. 

"To see that our memories are so short that we don't remember and honor those people who allowed us to have what we have today, it's infuriating," Lumish offered.  "It's my small contribution."

In their death, Lumish believes these veterans continue to deserve our appreciation.

"I want to honor those people, even though they're gone. They need to be honored," he said.  "When I do these restorations, I do step back. I'm not always brought to tears, but I feel the emotion of those descendants that stood there. So I stand in their footsteps. I literally stand where they stood 100, 120 years later, and I can feel them. Am I brought to tears? Not necessarily. But, do I feel their presence? I do."

This ‘Good Cemeterian’ is the guardian of lost souls, preserving final resting places and American history.

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