Eric Dahl's mission to clean every soldier's gravestone in Drumheller inspires other Albertans
Eric Dahl feels 'total validation' for trying to bring respect to veterans' memories
A lone volunteer's quest to clean every military gravestone at the Drumheller Municipal Cemetery in Alberta is slowly becoming a social movement.
A month ago, Eric Dahl took it upon himself to restore the sheen on each headstone belonging to a fallen member of the armed forces in all three fields of honour at the graveyard.
The unemployed father of five did it to honour those who served, he said, not anticipating any reward.
"They don't have families here anymore. I treat them as family. They're part of our military family," Dahl said,
Much to Dahl's surprise, his good deed convinced others to join up.
CBC paid him a first visit in Drumheller earlier this month. By the time we returned, news of his work had spread more widely via media coverage and social media.
We no longer found him alone.
Hey Eric Dahl of drumheller what your doing is bloody awesome don't know if your on Twitter but if I can help let me know!! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/respect?src=hash">#respect</a>—@FireoutTodd
Thank you Eric Dahl ... <a href="https://t.co/tICL1630Wo">https://t.co/tICL1630Wo</a>—@MJMyden
Strangers pitch in
"This will be a journey that I do every year," said Betty-Ann Stainbrook, sitting next to a gravestone she had just brushed. "I will be coming here and tending to those that still haven't gotten tended to."
Stainbrook said some of her own family members have served in the military.
For Grant Kucher, too, there was a personal connection. Shortly after hearing about Dahl, he also found out his great-grandfather and great-uncle, both buried in Drumheller, had served as well.
So, he took it upon himself not only to clean their headstones, but those of total strangers.
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"You do try to think of what they were like as a person," he said. "Man or woman, doesn't matter. And you do talk to them, you don't realize it but you actually do."
"I could swear he was standing right there," Kucher said of his great-grandfather. "It almost felt like I knew him for an eternity, just sitting there."
Unearthing the past
Dahl, whose own grandfather served in the Second World War, said he knew very little about Daniel Keenan Hume other than that he was a member of the Royal Canadian Navy and a crew member of the HMCS Regina.
Dahl also knew the Regina sank in August 1944, torpedoed off the coast of England by a German submarine.
Hume survived, but was "seriously injured," according to a copy of the Winnipeg Free Press from Aug. 18 of that year.
The CBC found out a little more information about Hume.
A Prince Edward Island Royal Canadian Legion document recognizes Hume's service with both the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force.
It also reveals he was imprisoned at the Stalag 5 military camp in Germany.
"My grandfather was a prisoner of war?" Dahl asked, overcome with emotion, when presented with the information.
"That's an absolute shock to me. I just knew my grandfather was in the navy," he said.
"He was a very quiet, commanding man," recalled Dahl.
An appreciation of Dahl's work
Just as Dahl is motivated by an appreciation of veterans' sacrifices in his zeal to ensure they have spotless final resting places, so too is he appreciated by members of the community.
Charlotte Chernoff's grandfather, Wilfred Teeple, is buried in Drumheller.
"I would have never thought to do it, to get out there and scrub it," Chernoff said. "I just can't believe that a man would take on all this, to clean all these graves."
Chernoff presented a portrait of her grandfather to Dahl. She's also asked him if he needs any help with cleaning supplies.
"It's absolute total validation for what I'm doing when I can put an actual face to the name," Dahl said, about receiving the picture. "They really aren't just names on a stone, they mean something."