YOUNGSTOWN – Steffon Jones knew from a young age that history would become his lifelong passion.
Jones recalls that his mother, Joyce Love, was practically the historian of the family. When her family members told stories from their past, she wrote it all down on a piece of paper. This led to his passion for recording and preserving the graves of unrecognized veterans and black veterans buried in local Mahoning Valley cemeteries to ensure their heirlooms are brought to the fore.
âMy mother was very young when she started writing the stories of her loved ones on sheets of paper and she did so before the age of 12. My mother continued this tradition into adulthood. When I was a child, she taught me to do research and taught me how to index information. This is how I entered history. I remember when I was 12 my grandfather, Isaac Williams, also talked a lot about history, and he touched me by the sleeve of my shirt and said, ‘You have to learn history. ‘âJones said.
LOVE OF HISTORY
Jones, a longtime resident of Youngstown, was born at Northside Hospital in 1962. He attended Campbell, Youngstown and Struthers schools and remembers how much he loved his history lessons. He attended Youngstown State University for college, where he studied history. His mother told him he should have become a history teacher.
Jones’ father, George “Wydell” Jones was the singer and songwriter of the famous Campbell-based doo-wop group, The Edsels. George “Wydell” Jones wrote the group’s national hit in 1958, “Rama Lama Ding Dong”. Jones said his father also served in the US Air Force from 1954 to 1957.
Jones is now a part and founding member of the Broadhead and Wydell Memorial Team, which documents, records, identifies, preserves and replaces the gravestones of forgotten veterans in the area. His passion began at Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown in 1995. Jones said that over the years the Broadhead and Wydell Memorial team have maintained the tradition of placing flags at the graves of veterans at the Cemetery of ‘Oak Hill.
âThe name ‘Wydell’ was my dad’s stage name when he was on The Edsels, so I wanted to include it in the team name. My father also loved history. The team is also named after Bill Broadhead, a former resident of Youngstown and my partner in the Oak Hill Cemetery Search Team. Broadhead’s father served in WWII in the Battle of the Bulge. Over the years Broadhead and I have recorded graves at various local cemeteries such as Belmont Cemetery, but our primary focus has been on Oak Hill Cemetery, âJones said.
The registration, search and identification of historic graves is a precise process. For Jones, the research is worth his time and hard work. He said you have to go to the cemetery first and look at each grave section by section and row by row. Jones said you write all the names on the gravestones. He also said that you have to be careful with some graves because the markers are different for different wars.
âFlag bearers on graves will help you locate them. Gravestones are different for different wars. For example, all stones from WWII are flat stones that are in the ground. The tombstones from the Civil War, the Mexican-American War, and the First World War are white granite and they stand upright. With Civil War Headstones, Union Army Headstones are straight, but round on top, while Confederate Army Headstones have a spike on top. When you see a GA R. insignia on a stone, which represents the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans who served during the Civil War). Then there are different monuments with statues of soldiers on them. Oak Hill Cemetery has a handsome World War I veteran, the body Claude M. Dey, who was killed in France during the war, âJones said.
CIVIL WAR STONES
Jones said that in identifying the headstones of Civil War veterans, there was a big difference between the letters on the headstones. These complex distinctions are key identification tools in the research process. At first, when Jones started recording Veterans’ graves, he only recorded Civil War graves. He recorded approximately 30 black Civil War veterans at Oak Hill Cemetery.
âFor a white soldier, they’ll have a regiment on it. For a black American Union soldier, the stone will bear the initials of the USCT (United States Colored Troops). Other initials on the black tombstones of American Union soldiers include the USCC (United States Colored Cavalry), USCI (United States Colored Infantry), USCHA (United States Colored Heavy Artillery) and the USCLA (United States Colored Light Artillery), âJones said.
Jones said the Broadhead and Wydell Memorial team has its own tombstone research team. He said the team also has its own field team which is involved in surveying. The research team and the field team work side by side.
âWe gave our first partial list to the Tod’s Homestead Cemetery Association in Youngstown. It was a list of veterans who did not have flag bearers on their tombstones. Our search team found a WWII soldier who fought for Canada who never had a standard bearer on his stone. Another interesting find was a soldier with a private tombstone and our team discovered he was a Civil War veteran. In addition, on the back of veterans’ tombstones there are bronze markers. Our team like to call these bronze markers “BBs”, which means “bronze back”. There are also veteran tombstones with a small bronze marker in the shape of a soccer ball and these can be found on the front of the stones. On the other hand, some tombstones bear bronze plaques. When our team trains people, we teach them all of these things so they can identify tombstones, âJones said.
WORLD WAR I PROJECT
Jones said the goal of the Broadhead and Wydell Memorial Team is to secure flag bearers for the graves of veterans who do not have them.
âWith God’s help, our team are going out there to make sure these soldiers have flags and flag bearers on their headstones. Also, with God’s help, if the gravestone is faded, we will replace it. It starts with our team doing the research. We get information from the cemetery to see if the veteran has a gravestone, no gravestone or a faded gravestone. The cemetery fills out the papers, and those papers go to the VA National Cemetery Administration, which then orders the headstones. The VA National Cemetery Administration sends the documents to the government, and the government approves the documents. Then the new gravestone is shipped to the cemetery, âJones said.
Jones was a Civil War reenactor for 16 years. He no longer participates in the reenactments because he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, he is still a local historian and his current occupation is working as a security guard for Remco Security in Youngstown. Jones is now working on a World War I veteran project.
âOur research team is currently gathering information through obituaries and The Vindicator articles on WWI veterans in the region. We carry out this project detail by detail, taking pictures of the soldiers for the newspaper and receiving letters they wrote during the war. With this project we also get the list of victims. I have the impression that we don’t talk a lot about the First World War and that we have to remember the veterans of that period. Plus, I think you also have to remember the veterans of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Boxer Rebellion, âJones said.
Jones has been involved in many rewarding projects over the years to commemorate the lives of area veterans. One of the most rewarding projects he’s been involved in was securing a historic marker on Civil War veteran Oscar D. Boggess’s property on Edwards Street in Youngstown. This historic site is known as Oscar D. Boggess Homestead.
âWe had a committee dedicated to Oscar D. Boggess, a Black American Civil War Union veteran. This historical marker was the first dedicated not only to a Civil War veteran, but the first historical marker dedicated to a Black American Civil War soldier from the Mahoning Valley, âJones said.
Another rewarding project Jones was involved in was adding Private Jacob Nixon Robinson’s name to the statue of the man on the monument in the Central Square (Federal Square) in downtown Youngstown. Jacob Nixon Robinson was a Black American Civil War Union veteran. He is buried in Hampton National Cemetery in Virginia. This project was the vision of Anthony Feldes of Youngstown, who is dedicated to veterans in the region. Feldes, a Korean and Vietnam War veteran, noticed that no black American veteran’s name was inscribed on the Civil War monument when he returned from Vietnam. Feldes worked with Jones and Tom Anderson, local civic leader, to get Robinson’s name on the statue of the man at the monument.
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