On a recent school trip to the zoo, my 6-year-old son took a photo of a frog. Mount Pleasant resident Chris Cox donated his time, money and equipment to clean up the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a job normally handled by federal employees who weren’t on the job in October because the federal government was partially shut down.
So what do these two have in common, other than the fact that both Cox and the frog live in South Carolina?
My son photographed the frog because he said the other kids were ignoring the little green amphibian in favor of the larger animals. Meanwhile, Cox packed up his lawnmower and headed north because he realized that some of the nation’s most important memorials were being ignored as well.
“I heard on the news how vulnerable the memorials in Washington, D.C., were, so I had to look for myself,” said Cox. “Turns out, it was true. It was a virtual ghost town.”
His mission in the beginning was to make sure no one was defacing the memorials with graffiti, but he soon saw he could serve a more important purpose.
“I could help by taking out the trash and not letting the National Mall appear on television as being dirty,” he explained. “I couldn’t sit by and watch World War II veterans wheeling over dirty diapers. At one point, I had a mouse run up my sleeve and down my shirt. I have a whole new respect for janitors and the Park Service, who really just want to get back to work.”
Thought he didn’t know it, Cox was about to become the face of a movement, the Memorial Militia, that would sweep the country. His words have been repeated by kindred souls across America: “These are our memorials. 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.”
Even U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who represents the 49th District of California, took notice while on a bicycle ride. He read a letter on the floor of the House of Representatives commending Cox: “In response to the partial government shutdown, Chris Cox, a resident of South Carolina, traveled to Washington to assemble the Memorial Militia – a one-man mission to maintain the National Mall. … Mr. Cox serves as a great reminder of how Washington should conduct itself in this frustrating time.”
The day I interviewed Cox by phone, he had just finished organizing and directing more than 300 volunteers who arrived from across the country as part of the movement to clean the National Mall. The Million Vet March, held Oct. 13, would protest the closure of the nation’s war memorials.
“It was amazing,” said Cox. “Hundreds of people showed up from places like California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Florida. People reached into their own pockets and flew out here for a day just to help clean around the memorials.”
Amazingly, one man mowing the lawn at the Lincoln Memorial while carrying the South Carolina state flag inspired an entire nation.
“I carry the state flag with me everywhere I go,” admitted Cox. “When I am at an art show for business, I display the flag, and I felt this should be no different. I am proud of my state. I do it for my nieces and nephews.”
The general consensus is that Cox, who owns Cox Carving in Mount Pleasant, is representing the Palmetto State well.
“The family jokes that I was conceived on the Isle of Palms. I grew up in northern Virginia, but every summer of our lives was spent on the IOP. Now the entire family lives here permanently.”
His brother, Gregg Cox, owner of Cox Tree Service, has eight children who all live in Mount Pleasant.
“It’s killing my brother not to be here with me, but he has responsibilities at home and is helping how he can from there. Being single, my time is a little more expendable, ” said Cox.
“Although, I am ready to return to being a starving artist and eating Lowcountry cooking!”
Cox enjoys a good laugh, but he speaks in serious tones about certain subjects. Patriotism is one of them.
“Our monuments serve as a moral compass for the public, not only for our nation but for all nations. We look to lead by example, and there is no excuse for having trash float around memorials on any day, no matter what. Blood was spilled by these men. We do not stop honoring the men who fortified our boundaries for generations just because the government has shut down.”
Amidst an atmosphere that is aptly described as a zoo, Cox ignores the large issues plaguing the government and instead focuses on the little details. He hopes that others will be inspired to volunteer in their local communities, too.
“If you have something that needs to be done, just do it,” he said.
For more of this story, stay tuned for our November/December 2013 issue!
By Stacy E. Domingo
Photo courtesy of Memorial Militia