Historian's 10-year quest for World War I New York soldier’s grave ends in success
By Scott Desmit
via the Batavia News/The Daily News newspaper (NY) web site
BATAVIA, NY — On May 2, St. Joseph’s Cemetery manager Matt Dispenza gathered the entire office staff and his crews and headed to the cemetery.
They were on a mission: To find the grave of James Silvie, a World War I veteran who died of Spanish flu while at Fort Douglas, Utah.
“We were all walking through the cemetery when I saw a stone that was broken and tipped over,” said Jackie Motz, business manager at Resurrection Parish. “I almost walked right by it but then I though ‘Oh, I’ll try looking at it.’”
The stone was partially buried in the ground, muddy and moss-covered with two or three letters showing, Motz said.
She wiped the moss from the stone and the rest of the letters came into view: James Silvie 1893-1918.
“It’s the oldest section of the cemetery. There’s thousands of stones in that section,” Dispenza said. “It’s incredible she found it.”
Incredible and important, most of all important to Terry Krautwurst.
Krautwurst, formerly of Le Roy and now living in North Carolina, has devoted the last 10 years of his life documenting the men and women of Genesee County who served in World War I.
His Honor Roll project includes eight binders of information, including more than 100,000 words of text and 1,200 military documents related to the 66 men and one woman from Genesee County who died while serving during World War I. He donated the project to Genesee County History Department and has a website, “The County and the Kaiser.”
One part of his project was to photograph every grave of the 67 who died.
“I’d traveled to Europe, all over Genesee County and surrounding counties, and several states,” Krautwurst said. “And after finding and photographing 66 of the 67 graves, sometimes searching for hours row by row to locate a grave, I had them all — except one that was supposed to be in St. Joseph’s in Batavia. We searched for many hours (my wife and I) with no luck last summer and fall. Very frustrating! It was beginning to look like I’d have to give up on getting a shot of that final grave.”
With little hope of finding the burial site of James Silvie, Krautwurst sent a letter to the parish and St. Joseph’s Cemetery office.
The letter was sent Feb. 16 asked staff for any assistance they could offer.
“I have located and photographed every grave—except James Silve/Silvie’s, which is somewhere in St. Joseph Cemetery in Batavia,” he wrote. “As you might imagine, I’m determined to find this last grave if at all possible and would very much appreciate any help.”
Dispenza receive the letter and told Krautwurst that he intended to search for the grave when the snow disappeared.
On May 3, Dispenza called Krautwurst and told him of the find. He also told Krautwurst that he hoped to set the stone back in place.
“We brought it into the garage and we were able to glue the pieces back together,” Dispenza said. “We were able to restore it and set it back in place.”
All in time for Krautwurst’s visit back home Memorial Day weekend.
“The effort they made to find a lost WWI soldier’s grave,” Krautwurst said, “and to restore it so that it could be photographed for posterity, and so that I could complete my project with every grave photographed, just blows me away. Truly an act of group kindness, way above and beyond.”