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Researching World War I Veterans Buried in Bolingbrook’s Hillcrest Cemetery – Those Places Thursday

One of the relatively obscure historical notes of Bolingbrook, is the presence of four World War I veterans interred in Hillcrest Cemetery.  With its close proximity to Boughton Road and  Fire Station Three, Hillcrest Cemetery is far removed from the quiet, serene idea of a small local burial ground.  Putting aside its location on a busy thoroughfare, Hillcrest Cemetery is the final resting place of numerous military veterans dating from the War of 1812 to the Vietnam Conflict.

With the centennial end of the Great War looming on November 11, 2018, the volunteers with the Bolingbrook Historic Preservation Commission compiled a list of World War I veterans who are buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.  From this list, I was able to piece together details their military service from various sources.  Coupled with traditional records found the US Federal Census, World War I Draft Cards, and other vital records, it is easy to begin compiling information for a majority of soldiers, sailors, and marines.

Not everything is smooth sailing when it comes to World War I record availability on a state level.  The veterans from Illinois posed a particular challenge as state service cards in the state adjunct general’s office were destroyed in a fire.  Compounding this difficulty is the lack of Will County and DuPage County World War honor books.

Not all the veterans buried in Bolingbrook are from Illinois.  Two of our doughboys hailed from other states, such as New York and Indiana, were many World War I sources are digitized and made freely available to the public.  Using all the resources available both online and from traditional sources, we’ve been able to piece together the military service of the four Hillcrest Cemetery veterans, and discovered some local Great War veterans along the way.

Hillcrest’s Great War Veterans

  • Carl William Affeldt
  • Elmer Norman Hess
  • Edward Heeg
  • Harry Westervelt

Carl Affeldt headstone

Carl William Affeldt

One of the first resources for searching for a World War I ancestor is to take a look at their headstone.  As these headstones were free and available from the government, they were fact checked to ensure the correct information on the headstone was provided.  This is where we start looking for information on Carl Affeldt.

Carl Affeldt served as a Private in the 1st Provisional Training Regiment attached to the 161 Depot Brigade.  For a soldier who did not serve overseas, one of the best resources to uncover information is to find a military headstone application file.  These are available online from Ancestry.com for years spanning 1925-1963, and applications after 1963 can be acquired from your local Veteran’s Administration office.

affeldt headstone application

Using the information in the headstone application, we’re able to deduce Carl Affeldt’s role was one of logistical support during the World War.  The primary responsibility of depot brigades was to receive and organize recruits, provide them with uniforms, equipment and initial military training, and then send them to France to fight on the front lines. The depot brigades also received soldiers returning home at the end of the war and completed their out processing and discharges.

Elmer Hess Headstone

Elmer Norman Hess

As states were responsible for local draft boards and organizing men for the war in Europe, they were also responsible for collecting service information on veterans at the end of the war.  A short summery of each veteran’s information was compiled on a military service card.  Most states kept their service cards, and used them to confirm soldier’s identities in the 1920s during the veteran’s bonus payment offered by the government.

While Illinois is one of the states which lost their World War I military service cards in a fire, Indiana’s collection has survived intact.  These cliff note versions of military service records are now being digitized, transcribed, and placed online for free.  Let’s take a look at Elmer Hess’ service card.

hess service card

Although the middle initial for Elmer Hess is incorrect, the information listed on his headstone matches the details in his military service card.  The card also provides additional details such as the dates he served overseas, (December 4, 1917 – April 28, 1919), the date of military discharge (May 10, 1919), and in which capacity he served.

Under the ‘Organizations’ line of the service card, we can see Elmer Hess served in some sort of support role in Medical Base Hospital 32 during the Great War.  This is particularly helpful, as a simple internet search for this hospital provides a wealth of details about the facility, including it’s founding and and location in France.  A write up about Base Hospital 32 was recently published on Indiana’s World War I Centennial Commission website.

base hospital 32

Over its year of service, Base Hospital 32 would admit 8,506 Americans, 1,003 Allies, and 189 Germans totaling 9,698 admitted patients.  Edward Hess was one of many Indiana-based individuals assisting in the medical efforts of the Great War.  After spending most of his time abroad in Lilly Base Hospital, we can find Edward Hess returning home from Europe on board the ‘Freedom’ from St. Nazaire, France bound for Hoboken, New Jersey.

Hess manifest


Heeg Headstone

Edward O. Heeg

Even with scant information on a military headstone, you can still uncover a vast amount of information using Ancestry’s collection of U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939.  A lot of the information needed to begin searching comes right from the headstone itself – A name (Edward O Heeg), rank (Pvt), branch (Army), and birthdate (March 28 1893) goes a long way in locating the correct veteran.

Mr. Heeg’s information really surprised me, given the typical service information which is absent from his headstone.

Edward Heeg served with 2nd Company of the 12 Infantry Regiment, which was assigned to guard segments of Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railroad from Vladivostok to Nikolsk-Ussuriski in the north.  We know more about his dates of service and regiment information from the listings in the transport service lists:

trip 1
heeg transport list sanfran

From this listing, we’re able see the date and place of departure (San Francisco on September 2, 1918), as well as the name of Pvt. Heeg’s mother (Callie) and his closest town (Naperville, IL, but the typist records California)

The man in charge of the so called “Siberian Intervention” was General William S. Graves.  Graves was committed to a non-confrontational presence in Russia, and placed his primary focus on providing protection for American supplied property in the Vladivostok region, as well as helping the Czechoslovak Legion evacuate Russia quickly and safely.  Graves did not wish to entangle himself or his men in fighting the growing Bolshevik presence in the area, which caused a tremendous amount of friction between Graves and his British, French and Japanese allies.

For Edward Heeg, the prospect of guarding the Trans-Siberian Railroad was miserable.  It was a world away from the temperate weather of his WWI training camp in Palo Alto, California. For the duration of his military service in Russia, Heeg and his fellow soldiers would have had little to look forward to except the brutality of Siberian sub zero temperatures.  Logistically, the Army couldn’t make regular supply trips to the area, leaving the soldiers without essential supplies such as food, fuel, ammunition, and cold weather equipment.  

Heeg was one of the lucky few who didn’t have to stay in the Vladivostok region for long.  Nine days after his arrival in Russia on September 11, 1918, Heeg returned to San Francisco on board a ship called ‘Logan’, which arrived back in the United States on October 19, 1918.  His listing on the ship manifest back to San Francisco places him on a list of ‘Privates of Infantry for Discharge’, which would have brought his time in the military to a quick and rather painless end.

Edward Heeg spent most of his active service as a passenger on board several transport ships, but the paperwork he left behind gives us a better understanding of a young man’s journey from DuPage Township, to military training at Camp Fremont in California, two trans-pacific ocean trips, and a chilly week in Siberia.  His experience was part of a little known chapter in World War I history.

harry Westervelt headstone

Harry L. Westervelt

Anyone familiar with genealogy research in New York state will tell you bluntly, record availability in the Empire State is a hot mess.  Where the vital records (births, marriages, and deaths) of New York have been difficult to access for years, the good folks charged with collecting and making World War I records available for the centennial have produced some of the best resources available to researchers online.

If you’re fortunate to have an ancestor from New York state who served in the Great War, you have these records available online to add to your research:

With the information from Harry Westervelt’s headstone, the availability of records from New York state provides a straightforward way to acquire his military service information quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

Let’s take a look at these records upclose:

New York, Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919westervelt harry l service card

New York, New York Guard Service Cards, 1906-1918, 1940-1948
westervelt national guard card

U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939
Outgoing Passenger List for the Pocahontas September 1, 1917
westervelt transport list
U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939
Return to America on board the Rochambeau February 16, 1918
westervelt transport 2

Using the information from these documents, we’re able to make serious headway into Harry Westervelt’s Great War experience.  As an engineer, Harry Westervelt would have assisted in constructing and repairing all types of structures, and we can summarize most of his experience using the help of Historical Sketch and Annual Athletic Games of the 102nd Regiment, Combat Engineers, N.Y.N.G. which was published in 1938.  While this title is not available online, there’s another fantastic resource free and available for download entitled Combat and Construction: U.S. Army Engineers in the World War I by Charles Hendricks.

Using this combination of state, archival, and library resources, any genealogist would be able to reconstruct details of Pvt. Westervelt’s service.  Additional information, found in the World War I Roster and Muster Rolls, as well as Daily Morning Reports from the National Archives National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis would be the next step in conducting additional research.  The muster rolls and the daily morning reports are available for free on microfilm from the NPRC, and these records include additional details which cannot be found in the online resources outlined in this blog.

Veterans who resided in Bolingbrook at some point but are not buried locally:

  • Herbert “Chick” Anderson (US Army)
  • Robert Flinn (US Navy)
  • Charles Marks (US Army)

This is great, but what do I do with what I found?

When I finished my research, I created a brochure which will be printed and distributed to several locations around town such as the local museums, village hall, the American Legion post, and civic organizations.  It looks a little strange, but keep in mind we have to fold each brochure to make it readable for the public.  Here’s an example of what we put together:

hillcrest brochure for blog

If you’re not up for making an informational brochure, you may want to consider writing up what you found in the course of your research and sending it to the World War I Centennial Stories of Service website.  This doesn’t have to be a complicated process.  Write about what you know and the information you’ve found during your research.  If you have a photo upload it to the application.  Your ancestor’s story will be available for future generations to read and enjoy.

Big news!  Our library is currently working with some local partners to digitize a newly discovered list of Will County World War I Great War Veterans.  The original document will require further research, but we’re pretty confident this veteran’s list was complied by the local war board at the end of the war.  More updates about this project as it develops!

bells of peace.png

The World War I Centennial is upon us, and it’s time to remember the soldiers and civilians who perished during the course of the war.  You can mark this cennenial event at this year’s Armistice Day: Bells of Peace program at the Cantigny Park Visitors Center on Sunday, November 11 beginning at 10:50 a.m.  Cities and towns across the country will toll their bells in remembrance of those who perished during the war in this public gathering.  Afterward, join Cantigny will host a Victory Tea with warm beverages before providing guided tours of the First Division Museum.  More details of this event are available online.  This is just one of the many World War I Centennial events hosted by Cantigny Park, so you will want to check out their full schedule of programs.

See you at the library!

#WWI #Illinois #Cemeteries #GeneaBloggersTRIBE

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