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 About 60 volunteers, including University of Delaware staff and students, gathered at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear to clean more than 7,600 headstones and 73 benches to honor veterans.
About 60 volunteers, including University of Delaware staff and students, gathered at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear to clean more than 7,600 headstones and 73 benches to honor veterans.

Honoring veterans with a bit of elbow grease

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

UD senior and Marine Steven Sprofera helped organize cemetery cleanup

One of the driving factors behind Steven Sprofera’s decision to enlist in the Marines was the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. He was only four when the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan crumbled after a terrorist attack, but he said he vividly remembers watching from the rooftop of his grandparents’ apartment across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Sprofera, a senior studying criminal justice at the University of Delaware, said he serves to prevent another tragedy from happening on American soil.

“I did this because to me it was the right thing to do,” Sprofera said. “I want to help people. I want to be sure nothing like 9/11 ever happens again and I want to make sure the people that I care about are safe. I do these things for them. That’s the bottom line.”

Steven Sprofera, UD senior and Marine, dries a gravestone with a leaf blower during the Oct. 28 cleanup project at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear.
Steven Sprofera, UD senior and Marine, dries a gravestone with a leaf blower during the Oct. 28 cleanup project at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear.

Every day he wears a silver colored bracelet from the National September 11 Memorial in New York that reads “Never forget.” He also has the quote “For those I love, I will sacrifice,” saved on his phone, hung up in his room and as a tattoo down the side of his rib cage.  

He joined the Marines about two and a half years ago on a split contract. This means he is able to attend college, while fulfilling his service duties during specified weekends and summers. During that time, he’s worked his way up the ranks, becoming a corporal in July.

On campus, Sprofera has also become a leader among the military community. He serves as the social media chair of the Blue Hen Veterans (BHV). A chapter of the Student Veterans of America, BHV offers support and resources for student veterans. He also interns with Brooks Raup, UD’s veterans services coordinator.

Sprofera said Veterans Day means a lot to him. His grandfather served in World War II, his uncle in Vietnam and he has a handful of enlisted friends around the world.

“Veterans Day, I get to honor my grandfather, I get to honor my uncle and people who came before us and allow me to do what I do,” Sprofera said. “We don’t have UD, we don’t have these jobs we work, we don’t have any of this without them.”

Sprofera participated in various events this year to show his respect for veterans, as did other UD students, with or without history of military service.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, a cold and cloudy day, a group of about 60 volunteers gathered at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear to clean grave markers. The grass was still moist from the heavy rains the previous day. Flowers and American flags were scattered around the graves.

Sprofera worked closely with Raup to organize the project. Volunteers from veteran and ROTC programs across the state used WD-40, rags, leaf blowers and brushes to scrub clean more than 7,600 headstones and 73 benches.

The community effort gained support from other organization, including WaWa, which provided free refreshments, and Home Depot, which provided cleaning materials and a few volunteers to help with the cleanup.

“This cemetery never had a cleanup like this,” Sprofera said. “They’ve never had this many volunteers organize something like this for them. So I’m kind of excited, especially because I’m really proud I helped put this together. This was a big project.”

Their efforts were recognized by Charles Baldwin from the Delaware Commission of Veteran Affairs. He sent Raup a letter of thanks. The letter said in part: “As a 50-year veteran I will tell you there are those who use, ‘We support our veterans’ simply as a sound bite several times a year. University of Delaware, however, demonstrated (as they always do) they truly ‘walk the walk.’ ”

In addition to the cemetery cleanup, BHV members and others planted about 7,000 flags on The Green to represents the total number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed on duty since Sept. 11, 2001. They will also hold their annual Flags for the Fallen ceremony on Friday, Nov. 9 at 10:30 a.m. on The Green and the Veterans and Friends Ball on Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. in Clayton Hall.

Sprofera said he loves what he does and is appreciative of these celebrations to connect with veterans.

“I love being involved in the veteran community and helping out people who have had experiences similar to mine,” he said. “Unless you’ve been in the military, you don’t necessarily understand the culture or the experiences that people have gone through.”

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