By JOSH ECHT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Youngstown historian Steffon Jones received a valuable piece of advice from his father when he was younger: Be original.
"He said, 'Don't do something else in life everyone else has done,'" Jones said.
For Jones, that "something" different is a proposed veterans memorial planned by him and his friend, Tony Feldes, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
"The proposed memorial is different because it will focus on those veterans who came back and are still living as well as the deceased," Feldes said. "Most memorials just honor the deceased soldiers."
Feldes said the proposed monument, with an estimated cost of $500,000, would stand next to the soon-to-be-completed Convocation Center if completed. The monument will feature names carved into a granite wall, not unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., he said.
The monument will feature Mahoning County veterans from the Revolutionary War through Operation Iraqi Freedom in addition to Trumbull County veterans from the Civil War and War of 1812, Feldes said.
"It will also feature each soldier's enlistment and discharge date," Jones said.
Jones and Feldes are members of "The Memorial Dedication Group," a Youngstown organization celebrating history with a focus on black veterans. The group, with 10 researchers, also participates in area Civil War re-enactments.
"We're still taking baby steps planning this thing," Jones said. "One of our biggest problems is finding funds, researchers and an attorney to help out with paperwork."
Currently, the group has support from Youngstown City Council and local politicians, Jones said. It will fund the project via applying for grants.
Both members said they were motivated to start the monument after the name of the first black soldier killed in action was engraved on the downtown Civil War statue in May.
"Youngstown dedicated the statue July 4, 1870," Feldes said. "The first black Civil War veteran was engraved almost 135 years later."
Lack of representation
Feldes, originally from St. Louis, came to Youngstown in 1969. He saw the monument downtown and instantly knew it had no black soldiers engraved on it.
"They carry a different designation next to their names," he said.
He met Jones in 1997 at VFW Post 6488 in Coitsville after hearing Jones give a talk about restoring headstones at Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown.
"Steffon and I made a bet on a steak dinner," Feldes said. "Steffon said there were black Civil War veterans on the monument downtown.
"I told him there were not. We drove downtown and I proved him wrong," Feldes said. "He still owes me dinner."
Jones said after he lost the bet he found out black Civil War veterans listed on monuments carried the designation U.S.C.T., or United States Colored Troops.
"Only two units, the 29th Connecticut and 54th Massachusetts Calvary, did not have designations," Jones said.
He stressed the importance of history and veterans' monuments to the younger generations.
"A historian I knew, Adrian Russ, said young people today do not appreciate the sacrifices veterans have made for their country," Jones said. "It's our goal with this monument to change that."