Past Brown Bag Lunchtime Talks (Jamestown Post-Journal)

Amanda Brainard, town of Leon cemetery records keeper, delivering a presentation during the Fenton History Center’s Brown Bag Lecture series Wednesday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

Fenton Hosts Cemetery Preservationist Lecture – Jamestown Post-Journal (April 13, 2017): There is a possible new solution to preserving rural cemeteries.

On Wednesday, Amanda Brainard, town of Leon cemetery records keeper, discussed what can be done to preserve rural cemeteries during the Fenton History Center’s Brown Bag Lecture series. Brainard, who has been working with the town of Leon since 2014, said one aspect to help preserve rural cemeteries is to stop thinking of them as ”creepy” places.

”As a community, we need to look beyond the ghosts,” she said.

As far as laws, she said there are basically no federal laws and very few New York state laws to assist with the preservation of rural cemeteries. She said possible solutions for people or organizations would be to start a volunteer maintenance program; contact the state Office of Historic Preservation to see if it can be registered as a historic place; contact veteran groups to see if they are willing to help preserve the cemetery if military personnel have been buried there; and contact local municipalities to see if they are willing to pass laws and fund money to help preserve the cemetery.

Brainard said there is a new group called the Northeaster Coalition For Cemetery Studies that has been created to help preserve rural cemeteries in Western New York.

She said the mission of the nonprofit group is to assist in writing, correcting and editing laws addressing abandoned cemeteries; study rural cemeteries for records; analyze and preserve documents for historical preservation; and manage the preservation and restoration of cemeteries.

Brainard said the Northeastern Coalition For Cemetery Studies goals include addressing the lack of laws to protect cemeteries; assisting municipalities with preserving cemeteries; starting volunteer maintenance programs; and establishing noninvasive cemetery research programs that will use ground penetrating radar, GIS, topographic surveys and cadaver dogs to help preserve the cemetery.

The first pilot preservation project for the Northeastern Coalition of Cemetery Studies is the Leon Hollow Cemetery on Riga Road in Leon, Brainard said. She said the hope is to get grant funding to purchase equipment to analyze the cemetery for preservation. For more information on the grassroots group, visit nccscemeteries.wixsite.com/nccs.

Mary Jane Phillips Koenig speaking about her great-uncle’s letters he sent to his mother during World War I. Koenig’s great-uncle was Private Russell Archie Harvey who served in the Army’s 357th Infantry Regiment, 90th Division. The letters are part of a Fenton History Center’s World War I exhibit Over There: World War I and Jamestown. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

Voice of War Echoes at the Fenton – Jamestown Post-Journal (May 11, 2017): The words of a World War I veteran echoed at the Fenton History Center Wednesday.

During the Brown Bag Lecture series, Mary Jane Phillips Koenig presented her presentation, “Why It Matters: His Voice Echoes Still Across America,” about letters her great-uncle, Private Russell Archie Harvey, wrote to his mother while serving in the U.S. Army’s 357 Infantry Regiment, 90th Division during World War I.

Koenig, a retired school teacher, said she has spent a “lifetime” researching her great-uncle’s 20 letters that were saved by Harvey’s sister, May.

Koenig said Harvey was born in in Corry, Pa., in 1888. She said Harvey’s family sold the family farm and moved to Jamestown around 1900. She added that Harvey spent around 14 years in Jamestown before the war. In an edition of the Jamestown Evening Journal from 1913, Harvey participated in a play as a member of the Knights of Pythias. The play included several other notable Jamestown residents of the time, which included Mayor Samuel Carlson and future Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson.

Koenig said Harvey was drafted into the Army in 1918 while he was living in Iowa. After Iowa, he went to Texas for basic training and then to New York City to make his way to the fighting in Europe. Harvey’s letters discuss several topics, including the steamship trip on the Delta to France. Harvey said he didn’t get seasick on the journey, but other troops on the ocean voyage weren’t so lucky.

Other topics discussed in letters included a 120-mile march by foot in France between posts; seeing an old castle that must have been built when “knights still wore armor;” about Harvey being a company scout; and about digging battlefield trenches.

In a letter dated Nov. 16, 1918, five days after the armistice that ended World War I, Harvey wrote a letter expressing that he is sincerely thankful to his mother and wants to live near her once he returns back to the United States.

Another letter expressed how, at one point, Harvey didn’t think he would see Christmas, which is why he didn’t request a gift package coupon for his family. Harvey wrote that he thought he would be “pushing up daisies” by Christmas.

In another letter not written by Harvey, a Robert Marx wrote Harvey to thank him for pulling him off the battle field while he was injured. Koenig said that during her research she discovered that Marx later went on to create the Disabled American Veterans organization.

Before returning home to Jamestown, even after serving on the front lines in France, Harvey’s regiment served as guards in Germany after the war.

Koenig said that Harvey died in 1924. He is buried in Soldier’s Circle at Lake View Cemetery.

Copies of Harvey’s letters are on display at the Fenton History Center, located at 67 Washington St., as part of the exhibit, Over There: Life in Jamestown During WWI. The exhibit tells the story of what it was like in Jamestown during The Great War.

Steve Trask, Vietnam War Veteran, sooke about his experiences as a sniper during the Vietnam War at the Fenton History Center on June 14, 2017 in recognition of the U.S. Army’s 242nd Birthday and Flag Day 2017. 

Veteran Discusses Experience in Flag Day – Jamestown Post-Journal (June 15, 2017): Flag Day was an appropriate time to hear from a Vietnam War veteran about his service to his country, which demonstrated the sacrifices made by all military personnel so Old Glory can be honored each year by Americans.

During the monthly Brown Bag Lecture Series at the Fenton History Center, Steve Trask, a Vietnam War veteran who was enlisted in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1969, talked about his experiences during the Vietnam War. Trask was a sergeant who completed Special Forces training in Ft. Devens, Mass.; airborne training in Ft. Bragg, Texas; Ranger Training in Az.; winter survival training in Klondike, Alaska; and jungle training in Panama before he started serving in Vietnam in 1968, three days before the Tet Offensive.

Trask said his journey to Vietnam wasn’t a smooth trip, which started with him traveling to Buffalo during an ice storm. From there he faced delays, which included him traveling across state by train to finally take a flight to Seattle. He arrived at the bus to the base at 11:45 p.m., which was barely before his midnight deadline to report for duty.

Once in Vietnam, Trask said he was promoted to sniper and went to sniper training school. He talked about his experiences as a sniper, which included spending days in towers with his riffle aimed at the enemy or months at a time hiding in the jungles of Vietnam. He discussed how one piece of advice he received was not to look at the enemy’s face nor to count the number of enemy soldiers he shot.

“I don’t know how many people I shot,” he said. “I don’t remember a face.”

During his discussion, Trask talked about an up close encounter with a tiger, enjoying a special Thanksgiving dinner on a ship with three of his cousins who were also serving in the U.S. military in Vietnam and how a pilot gave him his survival knife after Trask saved him after he parachuted into the jungle.

Trask said after his first year in Vietnam he re-enlisted for five more years. He said he was almost through his second tour when he was badly injured.

Trask sustained his injury following a blast from a satchel charge that was thrown into a bunker he was protecting. He was blown 100 feet behind the bunker after the blast. He added that he was covered by palm tree branches that had been cut down by enemy machine gun fire.

Trask remained covered by the palm tree branches for two days while in a coma before his body was discovered.

He then spent two-and-a-half weeks in a China Beach hospital, which he said was unlike the television show that aired in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Trask talked about how the doctors kept pestering him about going to Japan, which he refused. He then finally asked the doctors why they wanted to send him to Japan.

The doctors replied that he could be evaluated there so he could be sent back to the United States. Trask joked that he wishes the doctors would have told him that from the start.

Once back in the United States, Trask said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which led him into therapy for two-and-a-half years at the VA Medical Center in Erie, Pa.

Trask also said he spent 13 years in college at Jamestown Community College and Buffalo State following his service in Vietnam.  

Pictured above: U.S. Army Veteran Steve Trask.