MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – A Bradenton Navy veteran has set out on a mission to clean and restore veterans’ headstones that have fallen into disrepair, one cemetery at a time.
Trae Zipperer lives in Ft. Myers and has helped lead volunteers to clean hundreds of dilapidated gravesites across multiple counties. His latest mission brought him back to the county where he grew up.
Old Memphis Cemetery in Palmetto is a historic gravesite that was abandoned several years ago. Zipperer found countless veterans’ headstones at the cemetery in disrepair — slanted and covered in grime. Some were almost unrecognizable after sinking underground.
“We have only made a small dent and so I am just doing the best I can with no funding. Something needs to be done. I have faith that America will rally to this cause and we will get them all cleaned by Memorial Day,” said Zipperer.
For the Navy veteran, honoring fellow veterans is personal. Zipperer grew up in a family of war heroes.
“I grew up knowing the cost of freedom and just revering these amazing people who are willing to go to hell’s abyss for us and to see this… I can’t live with this. I won’t stop until they are all clean,” said the Navy veteran.
Old Memphis Cemetery is part of Manatee County’s abandoned and neglected cemetery property list, meaning the Offender Work Program periodically mows and weeds the grounds.
“The County repairs or replaces headstones and vaults that periodically when they pose a hazard or when remains could be exposed. However, beautification or restoration efforts are not covered by the County,” said Manatee County spokesperson Nick Azzara. “Instead, we often work with local volunteers to ensure they have safe access to an abandoned or neglected cemetery if they ever want to repair or replace old headstones.”
Volunteers can call Manatee County’s Neighborhood Services Department to learn how that process works by dialing (941)-749-3030.
Zipperer has seen the headstones of America’s heroes in disrepair in cemeteries across the nation. He feels it is an out of sight, out of mind issue, which is why he’s trying to raise awareness.
“It is despicable and I think America won’t put up with this if they know that this is happening. It’s embarrassing. It is despicable. It is disgraceful,” said Zipperer. “There are more of us than there are veterans’ graves and I really believe that we are going to get this done and once we do, it won’t look like this ever again.”
Zipperer founded a nonprofit called By Memorial Day. His mission is to promote perpetual care for all veterans’ headstones. He’s posted videos on how to get involved and how to safely clean a dilapidated headstone on his website. For more information, click here.