Teen cleans headstones to honor veterans

A Colusa High School senior has made it his mission to uncover the names of hundreds of local heroes by cleaning decades of grime and grease from their headstones. 

Among the names Charlie Franklin, 17, unearthed at the Colusa Cemetery on Saturday is John Blachart (1881-1943) a member of the Colusa Veterans of Foreign Wars, who fought in World War I a century ago, and Michael Pogue, a private with the Army’s 506th Infantry Regiment, who was killed in Vietnam on Jan. 31, 1968 at the age of 20. 

Cleaning the headstones is a big undertaking, Franklin said, and it’s a project that will take him multiple days. 

What he didn’t finish before Veterans Day, which was Sunday, he plans to finish before Memorial Day. 

Franklin, who is an Eagle Scout, chose the undertaking at the cemetery for his senior project, a requirement for graduation, because it ties in with the other projects he’s completed that are designed to help local veterans of military service. 

“I like helping the veterans because they do so much for this community, and I think we need to give back,” Franklin said. 

While his Eagle Scout project was to help the veterans paint and landscape the VFW hall in Colusa to make it more presentable, Franklin said it is equally important to remember graves and monuments left as memorials for those who served after they die. 

“Cleaning the headstones is a way to show that we still care,” he said. 

Franklin plans to enter the military after he graduates from high school. His father, Chaz Franklin, served with the U.S. Army in Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, and is a member of the Colusa Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2441. 

Colusa High School requires a minimum of 15 hours of community service for the graduation requirement, although Franklin has promised to clean the more than 400 headstones that mark the graves of those who served their country. Colusa Cub Scout Troop 5 had placed flags on the graves on Friday in honor of Veterans Day, which helped him identify the graves easily. 

“I’m looking forward to more workdays ahead, because there will be more,” Franklin said. 

Franklin’s father, mother, Jean Franklin, and Theresa Coon, a special education paraeducator at Colusa High School, helped clean headstones on Saturday, and well as Franklin’s brother, Louis, 15, a sophomore. 

Louis Franklin has two years to plan his senior project, but is already thinking about making and installing permanent flag holders on the graves of military veterans buried in the Colusa Cemetery. 

The cemetery is rich in local military history. Peter Vannest (1796-1861), Robert Tucker (1793-1875), James Newland (1798-1866), and three others whose headstones will be scrubbed were veterans of the Civil War. Capt. William Ash (1822-1906) fought in the Modoc Indian War, and John Paul Allen (1825-1906) fought in the Mexican-American War. Major Stephen Cooper (1797-1890) and Patrick Cooper (1807-1883), buried near each other in Section E, served in the U.S. Frontier Militia during the Blackhawk War (1882). 

The majority of the headstones to be cleaned are on the graves of Colusa’s World War I and World War II veterans, who united in service to their country in record numbers. ■