JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- Ernest Peterson is dead. He died in 1951, 29 years old, to causes now unknown and was buried in a small cemetery on the fringes of Georgetown, a small community tucked in just east of Camp Geiger. Time elapses, seasons change, wars come and go, and in late 2003, the cemetery where former Army private first class and World War II veteran Ernest Peterson lies is just a small hill overgrown with vines and weeds.
In January this year, Cynthia Watson, president of the Georgetown Renaissance Community Association, wanted to clear the cemetery for the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 19, but quickly found that the task was a bit overwhelming.
According to Watson, the cemetery was neglected over the years and subsequently overrun with weeds, vines, brush, trash and other tangle-foot. She then called on the Marine Corps for help.
Spearheading the initial cleanup were the Marines of 1st Battalion, 2d Marines with Goodwin at the helm of the Marines. Mixed within were various civilians of the surrounding communities driven to help, according to Staff Sgt. Anthony L. Goodwin, 2d Marine Regiment academics chief.
“The 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, has a good community service program,” said Goodwin. “I basically said ‘give me a project’ and this is what came up.”
The fact that there were veterans buried within the beleaguered cemetery was what prompted Goodwin to accept the project.
Since the 2d Marines became involved, it has spread to other units. Various commands such as the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools and the School of Infantry send Marines to help with the cleanup operation, according to Goodwin.
“We’ve had everything from privates to sergeants major out here helping,” said the San Antonio native.
Throughout the cemetery lie old artifacts of history. According to both Watson and Goodwin, long ago, when people were buried, family members would often bury pottery and mason jars with them. Some of these have become unearthed and are now being found in the cleanup. Even amongst the old trash lying about, relics of a past time are being found. One such example is of a 1930’s Clorox bleach jar.
“We owe the people who are here, that’s why were doing this,” said Philadelphia native Pfc. Jesse C. Blash, a Logistics school student, MCCSSS.
“This is history. If you don’t know where we come from, how do you know where you’re going,” said Watson.
The goal is to have the entire cemetery cleaned up for a June 19th festival called ‘Juneteenth’ which is a yearly remembrance of the day the last slaves were freed in 1865. Some of the individuals buried were, in fact, slaves. Currently, the oldest gravesite found is dated back to 1830, according to Watson.
Though the work is far from finished, Goodwin is confident the June 19th goal will be achieved.
“I guess it’s just a Marine thing.”
Before they can be finished, however, they need help. Both Goodwin and Watson are asking for anything, gardening tools, shovels, money, or even just a little personal time to help out. The cleanup project is not funded local governments so any funding used to buy dirt, tools, or anything necessary to complete it must come in the form of donations.
“We’re looking for anything,” Goodwin said.