Youngstown man parlays love of history into honoring veterans
YOUNGSTOWN — Steffon Jones knew at a young age that history would become his lifelong passion.
Jones remembers how his mother, Joyce Love, was practically the family historian. When his family members would tell stories from their past, she would write everything down on a sheet of paper. This led to his passion for recording and preserving the graves of unrecognized veterans and black veterans buried at local cemeteries in the Mahoning Valley to ensure that their legacies are brought to the forefront.
“My mother was very young when she started writing down her relatives’ stories on sheets of paper and she was doing this before she was 12 years old. My mother continued this tradition into her adulthood. When I was a kid, she would teach me about doing research and taught me how to index information. This is how I got to into history. I remember when I was 12 years old, my grandfather, Isaac Williams, used to talk about history a lot as well, and he touched me by my shirt sleeve and said, ‘you have to learn history,'” Jones said.
LOVE OF HISTORY
Jones, a lifelong resident of Youngstown, was born at Northside Hospital in 1962. He attended Campbell, Youngstown and Struthers schools, and remembers how he used to love his history classes. He attended Youngstown State University for college, where he studied history. His mother used to tell him that he should have become a history teacher.
Jones’ father , George “Wydell” Jones was the lead singer and songwriter of the acclaimed Campbell-based doo-wop group, The Edsels. George “Wydell” Jones wrote the group’s chart topping 1958 national hit, “Rama Lama Ding Dong.” Jones said his father also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1954 to 1957.
Jones is now a part, and founding member of, Broadhead and Wydell Memorial Team, which documents, records, identifies, preserves and replaces 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 has kept up the tradition of putting flags on the veterans’ graves at Oak Hill Cemetery.
“The name ‘Wydell’ was my father’s stage name while he was in The Edsels, so I wanted to include that in the team’s name. My father had a love for history as well. The team is also named after Bill Broadhead, former Youngstown resident and my partner on the research team at Oak Hill Cemetery. Broadhead’s father served in World War II in The Battle of The Bulge . Over the years, Broadhead and I have recorded graves at various local cemeteries such as Belmont Cemetery, but we mostly concentrated on Oak Hill Cemetery,” Jones said.
Recording, researching and identifying historical graves is an exact process. For Jones, the research is worth his time and hard work. He said that first you have to go to the cemetery and look at each grave section by section and row by row. Jones said you write down all of the names on the headstones. He also said that you have to look out for certain graves because the markers are different for different wars.
“The flag holders on the graves will help you to locate them. The headstones are different for different wars. For instance, all WWII stones are flat stones that are in the ground. Civil War, Mexican- American War, and World War I headstones are white granite, and they are standing up. With Civil War gravestones, the Union Army gravestones are straight up, but round on the top, while the Confederate Army gravestones have a point on the top. When you see a G.A. R . insignia on a stone, that stands for Grand Army of The Republic (a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans who served in the Civil War). Then there are different monuments with statues of soldiers on them. Oak Hill Cemetery has a beautiful one of World War I veteran, Corp. Claude M. Dey, who was killed in France during the war,” Jones said.
CIVIL WAR HEADSTONES
Jones said when identifying headstones of Civil War veterans, there is a big difference between the lettering on the headstones. These intricate distinctions are key identification tools in the research process. In the early days, when Jones first started recording graves of veterans, he recorded just Civil War graves. He has recorded about 30 black American Civil War veterans at Oak Hill Cemetery.
“For a white soldier, they will have a regiment on it. For a black American Union Soldier, the stone will have the initials of USCT ( United States Colored Troops) . Other initials on black American Union Soldier gravestones include USCC (United States Colored Cavalry), USCI (United States Colored Infantry) , USCHA (United States Colored Heavy Artillery) and USCLA ( United States Colored Light Artillery),” Jones said.
Jones said the Broadhead and Wydell Memorial Team has its own research team on the headstones. He said the team also has its own field team that is involved with the surveying. The research team and the field team work side by side.
“We turned in our first partial list to Tod’s Homestead Cemetery Association in Youngstown. This was a list of veterans who did not have flag holders on their headstones. Our research team found a WWII soldier, who fought for Canada, who never had a flag holder on his stone. Another interesting finding was a soldier with a private headstone and our team found out that he was a Civil War veteran. Also, on the back of the headstones of veterans there are bronze markers. Our team likes to call those bronze markers ‘BBs,’ which stands for ‘bronze backs.’ There are also veteran headstones with a small bronze marker that is shaped like a football and those are on the front of the stones. On the other hand, some headstones have bronze plaques on them. When our team trains people, we teach them all of these things so they can identify the headstones,” Jones said.
WORLD WAR I PROJECT
Jones said the goal of the Broadhead and Wydell Memorial Team is to get flag holders for veterans’ graves that do not have them.
“With God’s help, our team is going out there to make sure that these soldiers are getting flags and flag holders on their headstones. Also, with God’s help, if the headstone is faded, we will get it replaced. It starts with our team doing the research. We get information from the cemetery to see whether the veteran has a headstone, no headstone, or a faded headstone. The cemetery fills out the paperwork, and this paperwork goes to The VA National Cemetery Administration, which then orders the headstones. The VA National Cemetery Administration sends off the paperwork to the government, and the government approves the paperwork. Then the new headstone is shipped to the cemetery,” Jones said.
Jones was a Civil War re-enactor for 16 years. He no longer is involved with re-enactments because he has 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.
“Our research team is currently digging up information through obituaries and articles from The Vindicator on World War I veterans from the area. We are doing this project detail by detail, getting photos of the soldiers for the paper and getting letters that they wrote while fighting in war. With this project, we are also getting the casualty list. I feel that World War I is not talked about that much and that the veterans of this time period need to be remembered. Also, I feel that the veterans of the War of 1812, The Mexican-American War and Boxer Rebellion need to be remembered as well,” Jones said.
Jones has been involved in many rewarding projects over the years commemorating the lives of area veterans. One of the most rewarding projects he was involved in was getting a historical marker on the property of Civil War veteran Oscar D. Boggess on Edwards Street in Youngstown. This historical site is known as the Oscar D. Boggess Homestead.
“We had a committee devoted to Oscar D. Boggess, a Union black-American veteran of the Civil War. This historical marker was the first one dedicated to not only a Civil War veteran, but the first historical marker dedicated to a black-American Civil War soldier from the Mahoning Valley,” Jones said.
Another rewarding project Jones was involved in was getting the name of Private Jacob Nixon Robinson added to the Man on The Monument statue located on Central Square (Federal Plaza) in downtown Youngstown. Jacob Nixon Robinson was a Union black-American veteran of the Civil War . He is buried at Hampton National Cemetery in Virginia. This project was the vision of Anthony Feldes of Youngstown, who is devoted to area veterans. Feldes, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, noticed there were no black-American veteran names listed on the Civil War monument when he returned home from Vietnam. Feldes worked with Jones and Tom Anderson, local civic leader, to get Robinson’s name on the Man on The Monument statue.
To suggest a Saturday profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or metro editor Marly Reichert at email@example.com.