MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – An event to dignify the graves of our Civil War veterans turned into a reunion of sorts for a Two Rivers man.

It all started with an announcement on the radio.

Ryan Brahmstadt read out a public service announcement for an event in Manitowoc where participants wash Civil War soldier graves at Evergreen Cemetery. He recounted the story of Leonard Benkelman, a Civil War soldier from Manitowoc.

Benkelman was born in Germany and came to the United States about 20 years later. He joined the army on September 8, 1861. His unit disbanded less than a year later and he ended up re-enlisting into another unit.

After leaving the military he lived out the rest of his life in Manitowoc and had four children. Benkelman’s story caught the attention of one listener.

Stephen Newman from Two Rivers told Local Five News that he vaguely knew that he was related to Beckelman, although after hearing the name he said he had to double-check with a relative. However, he didn’t know that Beckelman was a Civil War soldier or that he had been buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Manitowoc.

Beckelman is Newman’s great, great, great grandfather.

After hearing the announcement on the radio, Newman said he knew he had to come to the cemetery on Saturday morning to clean the grave.

“Being here this morning brought out some pretty good emotions,” said Newman.

Newman was one of about 36 volunteers who came out on Saturday morning to clean the graves.

“The Civil War may have been before any of us were even a twinkle in anybody’s eyes, but it’s still very important to our history and it’s important to honor those who made it possible for us to be here today,” said Brahmstadt who helped to organize the event and also is a veteran himself.

The volunteers can only use light dish soap and water to clean the graves so nothing gets damaged. However, the before and after pictures of the graves showed the simple method was effective.

“I’m a veteran myself so when I pass away 100 years from now I’d hope that somebody would take the time out of their day to keep track of my gravestone and make sure it stays nice and clean,” said Brahmstadt.

There are about 250 Civil War veterans buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

This is the second year that the group has had the grave cleaning event, organizers tell us that the turnout this year was much higher than last year. 

Seehafer News sponsored the event.

“We need to remember our history, where we came from the people who made sacrifices so we can be where we’re at today,” said Newman.