- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Ray Gresham spreads a soapy solution across the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with a brush, then steps back and hoses it off. A rainbow forms under the jet of water as it hits the wall and streams downward.

"I actually know some of the guys whose names are on it," Mr. Gresham says. "That's why I like taking care of it."

As a maintenance supervisor for the National Park Service, Mr. Gresham has the job he wants in the city he prefers. Beginning at 5:30 a.m. each workday, he and his eight-man crew clean and maintain the monuments that surround the Mall.

Lately, he has divided much of his time between the Jefferson, the Lincoln and the Vietnam Veterans memorials.

"I like the Lincoln for some reason," he says. "It's the biggest memorial."

His second favorite is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"This wall is the most visited," the 44-year-old Springfield, Mass., native says.

"This has a lot of meaning to me," he adds. "I was in the military and I got in on the end of the Vietnam War, bringing the refugees back."

On a normal morning Mr. Gresham would navigate his bucket and hose between swarms of visitors stopping to look at the rows of names on the memorial. But it has been only 21/2 weeks since terrorists slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. Right now, surrounding streets are blocked off, armed guards stand at barricades, a helicopter makes slow loops overhead and the number of tourists has slowed to a trickle.

One small group of them includes a husband and wife from Massachusetts whose last name also is Gresham. They see Mr. Gresham's name tag and stop to take a photograph with him while they chat about the coincidence.

He is still smiling as they walk away.

"I like meeting tourists," he says. "I like working for the memorials. To me, it's an important job. It makes me feel good about myself. You meet all sorts of interesting people from all around the world."

The names on the wall take on a bright sheen as Mr. Gresham finishes his scrubbing. On this day, they bear an irony. He cleans the memorial of an old war while a new war is beginning.

"It'll be years from now, but there will probably be another one," he says about the possibility of a memorial to American soldiers now being deployed to Afghanistan.

On the morning of Sept. 11, he was in the Jefferson Memorial checking on newly installed lights. On the other side of the Potomac River, American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon.

"You just heard a big boom then there was a lot of smoke," he says. "I didn't know how dangerous this job was. We all had to get evacuated. That was a pretty scary incident with the building shaking like that."

The job of the maintenance crew includes picking up debris from visitors to the monuments, such as gum stuck to the sidewalk, small flags placed in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and litter.

On this day, two of Mr. Gresham workers sprayed water from steam cleaners on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial. A candlelight vigil over the weekend to honor victims of the attacks left wax drippings on the stone. Wax, like gum, is hard to remove, he explains.

He derives part of his job satisfaction from the before-and-after scenes of monuments as his crew finishes the workday. Before they start work, the monument is often marred by trash and grime from the wear and tear of tourists and weather.

"Then you bring it back to life," he says. "I bring my kids by to show them how good it looks."

He describes himself as happily married with two sons. The family lives in Northwest. He moved to Washington in 1976 because of job opportunities after he finished a stint in the Marines. Previous jobs have included being a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum caretaker, a truck driver, a custodian and a Federal Express delivery person. He has worked for the National Park Service for the past five years.

"Basically, I'm happy," he says about his most recent job.

Cleaning up after graffiti artists is one of his greatest disappointments. Last month, one of them used a black magic marker to darken the eyes of the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

"Some people are just cruel and mean," he says. "Why would they ruin a landmark? This memorial is for everyone."

Enough support has built in Congress so that a memorial to veterans of World War II may probably be built soon on the other side of the reflecting pool. It is anyone's guess what memorial will be added to the Mall after that.

"Each memorial is more work for us," Mr. Gresham says. "We'll probably have to hire more people with the more memorials we get."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide