The caretaker of a local cemetery has made it his mission to identify veterans graves and in some cases, replacing worn out stone markers.
BAY SHORE—A white, polished stone marker was recently placed over the grave of a U.S. Army veteran in St. Patrick’s R.C. Cemetery on Brentwood Road many decades after the veteran’s passing. The gravestone was made possible by the Veterans Administration, Nagy’s Memorials, and especially the work of the cemetery’s caretaker, Bill Lindner.
Lindner, who began working at the cemetery five years ago, said he likes to identify various gravesites of veterans. “As a retired veteran myself, I felt they should be remembered,” he said.
The caretaker had been able to identify 331 veterans from a number of eras going back as far as the Civil War. During his search, he came across one stone that was particularly difficult to read. Tracing it to his records, he found that it belonged to a Stephen Annabel, a veteran of the Spanish-American War. “His stone did not hold up well to the elements,” said Lindner.
The information he gleaned was Annabel, who was born in 1878, was a private in the U.S. Army Corps Co. K of the 46 U.S. Infantry. A resident of Brooklyn, he had enlisted in the Army on Sept. 15, 1899 in Jamaica, Queens at age 19 and 10 months. He’d been a carpenter by trade.
During his service, Annabel was involved in the Battle of Montalban in the Philippines on Dec. 27, 1899. And he was with Gen. Schwan’s expedition through the Laguna Providence, Jan. 3-6, 1900. Annabel was honorably mustered out of service on May 31, 1901.
Not much else is known about the veteran except that he passed away in 1928. Lindner discovered that the original stone was provided by the Veterans Administration about five years after that agency was organized. It was shipped to a Bay Shore address, 26 Wilbur Avenue, and accepted by a Lily Dixon. “I looked her up, but couldn’t find her,” he said.
Lindner said throughout the process, he enlisted the help of local veterans groups, Islip Town councilman John Cochrane’s office, where some veterans’ records are kept, and worked with St. Patrick’s Parish to glean more information about the veteran or his next of kin. No other information was uncovered. He noted that back at that time, before the Diocese of Rockville Centre was formed, the Diocese of Brooklyn covered this area. “Communication was poor,” Lindner added.
He applied to the Veterans Administration for a free new stone through the service they provide for all veterans. However, the VA requires family to take the responsibility of arranging to place the new stone at the gravesite. That became an issue with the Annabel stone. So Lindner enlisted the help of a neighbor, Nagy’s Memorials, which is located across the street from the cemetery. “They said they would have their team put up the stone at no cost,” he noted.
Tony Assande, who works for the Sprung Memorial Group that owns Nagy’s, said his office filled out the Veterans Administration paperwork needed to replace the stone. “It’s not as unusual as you think,” Assande remarked. “We did one for a Civil War veteran. We can do it as long as we have the information.” And he’s helped families of more recent vets with the application process as well.
Assande said he was happy to be able to replace and install the Annabel stone. “Anything for our veterans,” he said. “We’ll go out of our way to help.”
Lindner said he hopes to continue the process of replacing stones where needed. “I get satisfaction out of doing this,” he said. “I just have to watch that it doesn’t interfere with my primary task,” he noted, adding that he uses his lunch hour and free time to identify the graves. So far he has found five Civil War vets, four graves belonging to Spanish-American War veterans and 40 from WWI.
Lindner, a Navy veteran who served near the end of the Vietnam War, said he also works with local students to put flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day. “I have an allegiance to doing this,” he said.
For more information on the Veterans Administration headstone replacement program, go to the website www.cem.va.gov.