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Eagle Project Shines Brightly for Veterans

The Hudson County Genealogical & Historical Society (HCGHS) and Unit 305 proudly announce the completion of the Eagle Project of Eliot Jablonski, Life Scout and Assistant Senior Patroller of Unit 305, who planned, managed, and executed the restoration of the gravestones of veterans within the Soldiers’ Circle at Arlington Cemetery in Kearny.

Since its construction in the 1880s, more than 500 American Civil War Veterans and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient have been buried in Arlington Cemetery along Schuyler Avenue. Jablonski’s Eagle Project focused on cleaning the 777 headstones of these veterans buried within the special section known as the Soldiers’ Circle. Over the years, environmental weathering has eroded the once bright grave markers, requiring elbow grease and a special D/2 Biological Solution, used in monument restoration, to return them to their former glory. Atlas Preservation in Southington, Connecticut, provided a generous discount for the procurement of the required 30 gallons of D/2. Funds to cover the total costs of D/2, cleaning supplies, and safety equipment, including masks, gloves, and goggles, were donated privately in lieu of an in-person fundraiser during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan was designed originally to serve as a collaborative endeavor between the HCGHS and Unit 305. However, as word spread about the restoration of neglected veterans gravestones, there was a remarkable broadening spirit of volunteerism. Members of the Town Council, Woman’s Club of Arlington, American Legion, and even passers-by at the cemetery expressed a desire to support the worthy cause. More importantly, they registered and joined in, getting their hands dirty to show respect for our veterans. A total of sixty-eight volunteers, ranging in age from 4 to 77, comprised of Jablonski’s fellow Scouts, Unit 305 leaders, members of HCGHS and the community, as well as family, including cousins from Troop 7 in Ridgewood, toiled diligently during three work sessions in July to clean the gravestones. Endeavoring toward a common goal, they contributed more than 512 total service hours. The workers scraped lichen and moss with tongue depressors then scrubbed, rinsed, and detailed with toothbrushes to remove years of environmental wear and tear. Their efforts provided near immediate gratification as the cleansing of the D/2 revealed the previously indecipherable name and rank of the buried veterans. The 750 gallons of water needed were supplied in a 350-gallon water tote provided and refilled by the Kearny Fire Department on Midland Avenue. Jablonski consulted with KFD Chief Steven Dyl before Dyl’s recent retirement, former Deputy and current Chief Joseph Mastandrea, and Captain Michael Janeczko to borrow this water source positioned on the perimeter of the Soldiers’ Circle. New firefighter recruits assisted with the setup at the cemetery and refilled the tote as requested with the Engine 3 pumper truck.

The collective labor of all the volunteers, combined with the cooperative yet hot, sunny weather, made it possible for Jablonski to complete his Eagle Project two weeks ahead of schedule. At the end of the third official work session, Jablonski thanked his volunteers and donors, extending his gratitude for their diligence while social distancing. He greatly appreciated their hard work to restore the gravestones to honor the veterans who served our country. “The reason we remember people is because they’ve done something great for us,” Jablonski expressed. “These men and women have shown their patriotism by serving in the military, and it’s only right that we show our respect by cleaning these gravestones to give them honor. If we let them remain dirty, it’s like we’re throwing them away. The stones are telling a story and we need to help tell the story by cleaning them.” Jablonski also acknowledged and thanked Doreen Bloomer, HCGHS President, with whom he consulted throughout the endeavor. Jablonski coordinated his Eagle Project to benefit the HCGHS by enabling them to read the name and rank of the buried veterans within the Soldiers’ Circle. This arduous endeavor to identify each veteran will enable the HCGHS to continue their broader genealogical research and historical preservation of the burial markers within the Soldiers’ Circle. Any of the gravestones that have weathered beyond repair may be replaced by the United States Government through a petition filed by the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery which owns the Soldiers’ Circle.

Jablonski led the final application of D/2 sprayed on July 12, 2020, which will continue working on the headstones to provide additional protection against further weathering and environmental decay. Jablonski’s Eagle Project that celebrated a kickoff on the eve of Independence Day fittingly has shined brightly to honor the legacy and sacrifice of veterans.

The Eagle candidate is expected to plan, fundraise, secure materials, and oversee the execution of a completed project, including managing Scout leaders and fellow Scouts in leadership activities throughout the endeavor. Jablonski’s completed Eagle Project of the Soldiers’ Circle Restoration at Arlington Cemetery will be submitted to his Eagle Board of Review as the next step in his Trail to Eagle.