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WATCH VIDEO: Man, daughter look to replace illegible or missing veterans' grave markers

New Castle News - 9/5/2017

Sept. 05--Wiping away monuments isn't always a matter of debate.

Sometimes, it just happens.

That's the case at Greenwood Cemetery, the two-century-old graveyard on New Castle'sWest Side, where records show that 935 veterans are buried. Their graves are silent reminders of the sacrifices made in virtually every American war since 1776.

Yet while their service may be remembered, in hundreds of cases, their names are not. Time and weather have erased the inscriptions on many of their tombstones, while some have been broken and others are just missing.

That fact was too much to bear for 15-year-old Jessica Dudo and her father Mike, himself a Navy veteran who served from 1994-97, including time in the Persian Gulf. They have undertaken a project to identify each veteran's final resting place and, where markers are illegible, damaged or gone, secure a bronze Veterans Administration marker bearing the deceased's name and service to replace them.

"I'm a veteran myself," Dudo said. "I've always been a supporter of the military and veterans. My daughter is also. When she brought me down here and I saw this, the first thing I said to her was, 'These guys deserve better.'

"They deserve to at least be able to be recognized by who they are, not by 'this might be this guy, and this might be this guy.' "

Dudo grew up near the cemetery and recalls how he and his friends would cut through it and even play in it as youngsters. He still lives nearby it, and his daughter and a friend were walking through the graveyard one day when they came upon what is known as the Veterans Section. The secluded corner includes not only graves of many who served their country, but also some that were relocated there in 1921 from the cemetery of the Old Stone Church, which once had stood in the courthouse area on the city's Lower East Side.

For Jessica, a Union High student who collects items for the Butler VA Healthcare Center at her school, the erased and missing veterans headstones left her feeling "ashamed."

She later brought her father to the cemetery to show him what she'd found, and asked what they might do about the situation.

For Mike Dudo, there was only one answer: replace what had been lost.


Speaking with Jesse Putnam, director of the county veterans office, he learned that veterans are entitled to a free bronze grave marker. He would have to arrange for a stone backing on which to mount it.

That's going to involve some fundraising down the road-- "I've thought about it, but that's Step 10, and I'm on Step 1" -- but first, he would need the permission and cooperation of the cemetery board. He contacted Dan Salvatore, the board chairman, and arranged to present his proposal to members.

"What they're doing is incredible to me and the rest of the board," Salvatore said. "We're all taxed, we all have jobs, we all have businesses, and it's tough to keep up with everything that's going on. What Mike's doing I think is very important.

"This place is over 200 years old (although the official incorporation date is 1852, a 1931 New Castle News article indicates the first burial in what is now Greenwood Cemetery took place around 1802). It's dilapidated, it's had financial issues forever. We've got a board of trustees who are very sincere about what they do, and we are making improvements even though you may not see it. And what Mike and and his daughter' are doing I think is incredible, and I support them 100 percent; the whole board does."


Now, armed with a 35-page listing of 935 veterans provided by the county veterans office, Dudo has been spending his Sunday mornings walking the hills and valleys of Greenwood Cemetery searching for names on tombstones that match those on his list. Each time he does, he crosses that name off. In the end, the ones that remain are the ones he'll know need new markers.

Dudo would welcome anyone who would like to help, either locating graves or in the later stages of fundraising or actually installing the stone backers for the bronze plaques.

"They can either come find me out walking the cemetery on a Sunday morning, or call my cell phone (724 714-4192)," he said, suggesting in particular that high school seniors might find the effort a good way to full their community service requirements.

Salvatore promises that when the time comes to start the installation process, he and the cemetery board will be there.

"I've done footers for tombstones for many years," said Salvatore, whose more than 25 years of service to the cemetery included at least 16 as its caretaker. "We can set stones at no cost. Any footer work or anything that goes on on the premise is absolutely covered. I can take care of that no problem -- free concrete."


That's still down the road -- Dudo would like to start putting plaques in next spring, but he knows that could be optimistic. It could well take a year or more to accomplish his goal.

" I could be doing this for the next five years until I get them all done," said. "However long it takes, it takes."

Helping him to identify graves with no names or markers will be a web site set up by one of the cemetery's board members that put all of the Greenwood's records into a searchable online database. But, Salvatore noted, the online resource is only as good as the records from which it drew, and those have some big holes.

"Our records don't start until 1875, so anything prior to that isn't there," he said. "And then we're missing another crucial book from 1906 to 1931. And that's a lot of people.

"He's got his hands full -- this isn't a slam dunk. Someone's going to get missed, I can tell you that for sure. There's nothing anybody can do.

"But he can get as many as he can, and that is still going to be a great thing."


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