For 3 1/2 years a thoughtful, caring, American Patriot named Gene-o Platt has been refurbishing the headstones of 188 Union Soldiers buried at the old Santa Ana Cemetery.
A Tustin women's club once gave him $250 for the work he did on the Civil War grave stones. The Santa Ana Police Department gave him $500. The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society gave him an award.
And why not? It's disgraceful that these stones have degenerated as they have.
Or is it just nature taking its course, and the use of certain chemicals to make them look nice again, in the short term, will in the long run ruin them even more?
Now the Orange County Cemetery District is giving him the boot.
The district just voted to spend $2,000 to buy a stripping agent that will erase 3-1/2 years of work Gene-o Platt did.
What took everyone so long to not only notice his work, or decide it should be reversed?
Or is there more going on here?
As Mr. Platt says:
"It's sure gonna hurt me here," Platt says, tapping his heart.
"Why didn't somebody say something before I dedicated more than three years of my life to the project?"
Cemetery District General Manager Sam Randall claims to be sympathetic. But he says that the marble stones are apparently federal government property and no-one should have touched them.
As for why no-one said anything Randall claims, "we didn't know you were doing it."
Like Platt, I say BALONEY!
It was July 1998. Platt buried his wife, Jean, who died of a stroke at 67, in the Santa Ana Cemetery. Visiting daily, he noticed Union soldier monuments dating back to 1875, many so dirty the names were indecipherable.
"I thought, 'Man, that just can't be. That's our history gone to heck,' " recalls Platt, an Air Force veteran.
Rusty iron stars with the initials GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) were screwed onto many of the stones. Platt took the stars home, cleaned them up and sprayed them with aluminum. After screwing them back on, he felt compelled to clean the headstones.
Lying on the ground, he dug dirt and lichen out of the chiseled inscriptions for soldiers such as Ezra A. Wood: born 1833, died 1917. Then he brushed a white-pigmented sealer onto the stones and painted the inscriptions gold.
Now, in a He said - He said dispute, Randall is claiming ignorance despite some admittances he makes that belie that claim:
Platt says Randall gave him permission at the outset. Randall says "that's not true." But Anaheim Cemetery Manager Bill Stelter, who was running the Santa Ana Cemetery at the time, says he was there when he heard Randall give the OK. Thinking back, Randall now recalls giving Platt clearance to clean the stars. "That might lend a little light on why he thinks he had permission," Randall says.
But even if Platt didn't have permission, his supporters wonder, why did cemetery officials watch him work for hours at a time before bringing down the hammer.
Good question! As an official, if I saw someone doing something, and I knew they shouldn't, I'd stop it.
It's similar to the restrictions put on what can be set around a grave, when, and for how long, by relatives. There are rules to be followed, however unpopular, unless, or until, they are changed.
As one member of the local Preservation society said: "To let this have gone on and then go and destroy it ... it seems so damn mean and goofy."
Everyone in town knew what he was doing. Women brought him food on holidays, and even umbrellas to keep the sun off!
The story was frequently in the news and even Rep Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana, and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War recognized him.
Hell, even the groundskeepers brought him water!
How blind could Randall and company have been?
Randall claims ignorance, not just of what Platt was doing, but of the damage his actions could cause:
Randall acknowledges he saw Platt working, and even waved hello on occasion, "but I wasn't really sure what he was doing or on whose behalf."
When he finally got the full story, he says, he and the Cemetery District Board of Trustees (appointed by the Orange County Board of Supervisors) were not happy.
"As we looked into it more, we realized this is something that should be stopped," Randall says.
Now, granted, when you read the reasons, their concern is understandable...
"The placing of sealant on a marker actually hurts it," says Mike Nacincik, spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration. Marble headstones, which extend into the earth, wick moisture from the soil, some preservationists say. If the part of the stone above ground is sealed and not able to "breathe," the moisture will become trapped and the stone will crumble.
"Cleaning and straightening them is all that's allowed," Randall says. "Artificial coloring ... would be very inappropriate."
While the sun, and rain is kept out, and the stones look just spiffy now, they ARE Government property, and as such the Government decides what type of stones are placed, their care, and even their replacement.
It's also hard to argue with Randall's view that the stones look odd, and that "historical integrity has been lost."
Of course it makes us proud, he says, but "Do they really think they can walk into Gettysburg and just start painting (graves). I mean, it's outrageous."
Platt was told to stop in 2002. By that time he had sealed all but 16 of the 204 vertical Union markers in the Santa Ana Cemetery. Platt supporters gathered 300 signatures. Randall says he's never seen the petition.
For nearly three years, the district made no move. Then this month, cemetery trustees unanimously voted to return the stones to their natural state, setting aside $6,200. The money comes from the maintenance fund of the Cemetery District, which controls Santa Ana Cemetery, Anaheim Cemetery and El Toro Memorial Park. (About 30 percent of the district's budget is subsidized by county property taxes; the rest is generated by cemetery fees).
Randall said the trustees are toying with the idea of letting a Boy Scout do the stripping with his troop for his Eagle Scout project. The Boy Scout is the grandson of cemetery trustee Maureen Rivers. She did not return phone calls. Board trustee Leslie Keane said she voted to reverse Platt's work primarily to protect the rights of the relatives of the dead soldiers whose permission Platt did not get.
A man with a good heart, and the best of intentions, has been made to stop a worthy project, and the other day came across the 1st stone to be re-stripped.
Randall's inaction was an implied "nod of approval".
And this is the man in charge of overseeing the cemetery district?
If I was his employees, colleagues, or those above him, I'd be concerned about having him still in charge.
As for those most affected by this story...
I have this image in my head of something Mr. Platt didn't notice on that recent, sad, visit of his.
A silent, ghostly, Regiment of Union Troops, 204 strong, Officers at the front, standing proudly, gratefully, at attention near his car, and smartly saluting as he arrived, and exited ( a small contingent then breaking off to give him an escort for his visit to their graves ), and later left the cemetery.
THEIR opinion is the only one that truly matters, bless their patriotic souls.
OC REGISTER: Grave Consequences by Lori Basheda ( Free Reg. Req'd. )
It was recently announced that all efforts to return the markers to the state they were in before this work was done would be halted until further notice.
The theory being that the little darlings new look would erode on its own thanks to Ma Nature.
There's pandemonium in the ranks, General ! What should we do?
Let 'em party, Corporal, let the men party. It'll do their souls some good. ;-D