Chris Cox, as the lone member of the Memorial Militia, is on a mission to clean up the National Mall
Chris Cox, as the lone member of the Memorial Militia, is on a mission to clean up the National Mall. (Image credit: John Domen/CBS)
Washington, DC (CBS) -- You probably haven't heard of the Memorial Militia.
It's likely the group's only member hadn't heard of it before nine days ago.
Now, armed with a chainsaw and lawnmower, Chris Cox is on a one-man mission to clean up the National Mall as the Park Service employees normally tasked with keeping the area tidy sit idle during the shutdown of the federal government.
Cox, who resides in South Carolina, says he isn't motivated by political reasons but feels obligated to help as veterans prepare to descend on the nation's capital for this weekend's Million Vet March.
Regardless of how many former service members actually attend the rally, Cox says making them presentable is just the right thing to do.
"These are our memorials. Do they think that we're just going to let them go to hell? No," Cox exclusively told All-News 99.1 reporter John Domen. "If they shut down our memorials, we're still going to take the trash out, we're going to clean the windows, we're going to cut the grass, we're going to pull the weeds, we're going to do the tree work."
His tasks for Wednesday include clearing a large 12-inch thick branch that had fallen onto a tree-lined path near the reflecting pool and mowing the lawn around the Lincoln Memorial.
Cox does not have a ride-on mower. Instead, he is using a simple gasoline-powered variety that one could find in millions of homes across America. And he does so with a smile.
Cox, who carries with him the state flag of South Carolina, hopes his Memorial Militia will expand to include other volunteers before Sunday's event. If not, he plans to keep working the area between the Lincoln and World War II memorials as best he can.
"There's a lot of preparation to get ready for them and there's nobody here representing the government," he said.
Park Police do not condone Cox's mission for liability reasons, but let him work undisturbed for a time. He believes he was given an unofficial green light because his heart was in the right place.
But the green light was rescinded and authorities asked Cox to disband the militia. He agreed and has stopped the cleanup for the time being with the work far from complete.
First District Congressman Mark Sanford saw Cox's efforts, and was impressed. He released the following statement:
"Last Thursday after giving a speech on the House floor regarding the unprecedented closing of the Lincoln Memorial to the public during this government shutdown, Chris Cox came by my office to voice similar displeasure," said Sanford. I'd never met him and figured he was like many who voice displeasure with a piece of government, but then go on to whatever is next on their to-do list in life."
"Today I went for my run down to the Lincoln Memorial, and there in front of the memorial I saw a South Carolina flag hanging from the back of a lawn mower. Curious I went up to the flag, and who should be there, but Chris. It turns out he had taken it upon himself since our visit last week to keep up the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam and World War II memorials and surrounding grounds! He bought a lawn mower, a blower and told me he had spent the days and evenings since our visit, picking up trash, cutting grass and blowing leaves to keep walkways clean. An hour before we met, a park service officer had come up and told him he was no longer allowed to do so...though the park service would not maintain these monuments now."
"I'm impressed, Chris embodies what it means to be not just a South Carolinian, but an American," added Sanford. "He saw a job that wasn't getting done and decided to take care of it. We are not a nanny state, and when government in this case chooses not to do something it's in keeping with the American tradition to ask, "What can I do to fix the problem?" Chris's example is one we could all learn from in Washington, and accordingly, I applaud him."