Westmoreland historian, Trafford American Legion officer continue to preserve, honor local history

Mar. 11—On the 100th anniversary of World War I's end, Andrew Capets of North Huntingdon published "Good War, Great Men," which followed the wartime exploits of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, in which his grandfather served.

Over the years, Capets has learned more and more about the men of the 313th, including John Francis Manion, who was killed near Buzancy in the Ardennes region of France on Nov. 3, 1918, just eight days before the end of the war.

Manion's remains were brought back to the United States, and he was interred at Carnegie's Mt. Olivet cemetery on Sept. 10, 1921. And, thanks to Capets, members of the Trafford American Legion Post 331 and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, those who pass his grave now can tell who is buried there.

The federal department supplies new headstones for veterans whose graves are weather-worn or illegible.

"The headstone marking his gravesite was made of sandstone, and the lettering had all but weathered away over the past 100 years," Capets said. "It was impossible to read, and it was starting to come out of the ground and tip over."

Capets worked with Bill Bray, vice commander at Post 331 and someone who shares Capets' passion for honoring veterans and preserving history.

"I've actually ordered about 26 stones so far," Bray said. "You can be a funeral home, next of kin or a personal representative of the veteran."

Fifteen of those stones — with a 16th on the way — have gone to Civil War-era gravesites at Old Brush Creek Cemetery in North Huntingdon, where Bray has made it his mission to clean up the cemetery and preserve the information about the veterans interred there. That work includes tracking down the names of four Civil War veterans in the cemetery whose graves are marked only with small ivory-colored Grand Army of the Republic markers with numbers indicating a Union Army soldier.

Bray and Capets also recently received a replacement headstone that will be installed soon at New St. Joseph's Cemetery in Scott Township, for World War I veteran Lawrence Stadterman.

"He was in the same division as my grandfather, the 80th, but he was a military policeman," Capets said. "He died of pneumonia during the Spanish flu pandemic and was originally buried with a number of other other soldiers at a temporary grave near the hospital where he died."

Capets is planning a trip to Europe in the near future and hopes to visit the site of the hospital. Both he and Bray said they simply are doing their part to keep history alive.

"It's just helping to honor veterans," Bray said. "It's a privilege to help get new stones for folks who need them."

Capets agreed.

"I think it's important to honor and remember the young men of the 'Great War' who did not return," he said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at pvarine@triblive.com or via Twitter .