BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - Carmen Pequeno doesn't make it a habit of getting up early on weekend mornings to scrub headstones in a cemetery.
But she did Saturday to honor America's fallen soldiers. So did 506 of her Western Michigan University classmates.
The business students, mostly freshmen and first-year transfers, were preparing Fort Custer National Cemetery for Veterans Day celebrations on Nov. 11.
Freshman Pequeno grabbed a sponge, filled a bucket with water and a biodegradable cleaning solution and scrubbed headstones for two hours.
"It was nice that they had us do that because most people wouldn't come clean gravestones," Pequeno said. "It was rewarding. I feel good about doing it."
Open year-round, Fort Custer officials offered the cemetery for the university's fifth annual community service project.
The students began scrubbing headstones at 9 a.m. and had cleaned between 8,000 and 10,000 before they boarded their buses for the short ride back to Kalamazoo.
Michael O'Malley, an 18-year-old freshman from Chicago, cleaned about 20 headstones and said cleaning them was the right thing to do.
"Giving back to them is a good thing to do," O'Malley said. "It feels right."
Amari Parham, an advertising major from Kalamazoo, said she cleaned about six headstones.
"I think it's helpful because my grandpa was in the Navy and, I guess, someone will someday be cleaning his grave," she said.
Cemetery Director Mark Polen and his workers thanked the students and applauded them before they boarded their buses.
"The impact of this program is significant," Polen said. "These kids coming in and doing all this work cleaning the headstones, it's an amazing thing to watch."
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