By Sam Tyson firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON (WCIV) - It took a week, but Chris Cox has formed an army of volunteers around the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial as veterans prepare for the Million Vet March.
From the Lowcountry to the Upstate to the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, nearly 200 volunteers gathered Saturday morning to remove the trash that has mounted over the week from tourists while parks employees sit at home on furlough during the government shutdown.
"You can see they showed up with trash bags," Cox said Saturday, pointing to a couple from Rock Hill, S.C.
Squatting down, Cox introduced a boy named Donovan who showed up with a rake to volunteer his time.
"This is the youngest volunteer that we had so far," Cox said. "He's from northern Virginia and he came armed with a rake."
Cox's story swelled on social media as photos of a bearded man mowing the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial while carrying a South Carolina flag were shared on Twitter and Facebook.
It only took a couple hours before the city, and then the nation, had a name - Chris Cox - and a cause - the Memorial Militia.
Cox has said repeatedly that his sole interest in cleaning up the half-mile stretch from the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial is to make sure the veterans who show up Sunday don't turn away in disgust at how unkempt the area is during the shutdown.
"We're here to represent the men who put their lives on the line. From the Philippines, to men who had hand-to-hand combat with the Nazis - they're here today and we're going to show respect and we're going to get this area cleaned up if it's the last thing we do," Cox said in a FaceTime interview Saturday afternoon.
The call to do something has resonated with the public as elected leaders in Congress and the White House stand at a stalemate, neither side budging in a game of chicken that's costing an estimate $300 million a day.
Cox has offered just that. And he's pushing it to spread outside of the District's beltway.
"We want to encourage Americans around the country to come out and support the vets. If you can't be here in the nation's capital, find a memorial in your area and get a crowd and support veterans across the country," he said.
The group of roughly 200 volunteers, many of whom were gathered by conservative talker Glen Beck, will focus on the trash problem for the rest of the day so that the grounds are ready for Sunday.
He's even trying to talk his high school marching band into showing up as the veterans gather to welcome them with some crowd-sourced fanfare.
At the same time Cox is already looking ahead to Sunday after the march.
"We're going to have a lot of clean-up when they leave because, as you know, the government is not going to come after. We get a half-million people down here, we're going to need people down here to clean up after them," he said.
"We can't just get ready for them. When they're gone, we have to fortify this property, get it clean again for the veterans who happen to show up after the Million Vet March."
To further the cause, Crowd It Forward has started a Militia campaign to raise enough money to get Cox a riding mower.
"In this Random Act of Crowdfunding, if we raise at least $1,500 through your tax-deductible donations, we will buy Chris a new riding lawnmower. If we raise less, we will purchase Chris a new set of tools to help him with his wood carving business," the site reads.
Any funds raised over $1,500 will be donated to the Green Beret Foundation.
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, the group had raised nearly $600 towards its goal. To read more about the Crowd It Forward campaign, click here.