Effort pulling together stories of fallen troops
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Mar 4, 2014, 16:22
PRINCE GEORGE — As decades pass, often times those who gave their lives fighting the conflicts that founded our nation’s history get forgotten.
Members of the Prince George community are working to make sure this does not happen through the creation of a registry, which will be located as an exhibit at the Prince George Regional Heritage Center, that will solidify the names, faces and stories of local citizens who passed away serving in military conflict for generations to come.
Wade Lanning, who developed the idea for the memorial project, said it was inspired by the monuments that already stand outside the Heritage Center commemorating soldiers from all military branches who died serving during the campaigns of World War I, World War II, Vietnam and the Korean War.
Two stone monuments honor the names of 46 Prince George County residents who passed away as a result of these conflicts, although there are many local soldiers left unaccounted for, including some from more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lanning developed an interest in the project after he began asking friends and acquaintances who had the same names as some of the soldiers listed on the monuments whether or not they were related. When he quickly found out that several people he knew were indeed related to some of these soldiers, he began to formulate this idea that more detailed information should be gathered to preserve the local identities of these people who sacrificed their lives for their country, from the Civil War onward. This includes those who died in action, went missing in action or died from disease or illness while campaigning in a conflict.
“What we’d like to do with this project is make this more personal rather than just having people’s names listed on the monument, and just being a statistic. All those people were mostly young folks. They had parents, some of them were married so they had wives, some had children,” Lanning said.
Lanning brought the idea to Carol Bowman, the director of the Prince George Regional Heritage Center, and they are trying to get into contact with these individual’s families and construct a history of that person’s life prior to serving in the military, along with a record of their military service, as a way to provide an image and permanent story for each of them.
“We’re not trying to make a gory war story out of this. It’s all about the person,” Lanning said.
Bowman re-emphasized this point, stressing the focus on “the living person,” not how they died, but what they did before they died.
The information they are hoping to receive from families include such things as personal ancestry, birth date, death date, pictures in uniform, military service records, newspaper articles, tombstone pictures, military awards or medals and any other information that the soldier’s family wishes to contribute for inclusion in the exhibit.
Lanning emphasized a mutual partnership with the families on this project to ensure that nothing will be included that the families do not want to be included, and that any final drafts of an individual’s story will be sent to the family for review before being added to the registry.
The first family that Lanning has been in touch with and received a wealth of information from is that of Gratto M. “Jack” Rosazza, who died in France in 1944 while serving in the Army during World War II.
Rosazza was born in 1918 in Bedford, and moved to Hopewell with his family several years later. When he married his wife, Dorothy “Dot” Kirby, in 1938, they moved to Dinwiddie Avenue, which was still Prince George at the time, where they had their only child, Karl, in 1940. Jack worked as a crane operator at the Hummel-Ross Corporation paper mill in 1944 when he was drafted and assigned to the 3rd Army, 26th Division, 328th Infantry.
He died in action just nine months later in France.
Originally buried at the Appomattox Cemetery in Hopewell in 1949, Rosazza was moved in 1983 to the Merchant’s Hope Memorial Park in Prince George.
“These stories are very touching. We don’t want to lose that,” Lanning said.
Bowman said she is proud to have this exhibit housed at the Heritage Center.
“It’s all about heritage and sacrifice, so I can’t think of anything that’s more appropriate to be here,” Bowman said.
Lanning said they hope to have the exhibit up in the Heritage Center by May, containing at least a few stories of the many soldiers on the monuments, as they continue to research and add to the registry in the future.
In addition to establishing the exhibit at the Heritage Center, the project is slated to be posted in an online format, and each family will receive several professionally printed copies of their relative’s story and history, Lanning said.
“Some of these old families may not have folks to pass this on to, so they may have pictures, obituaries, whatever in their personal collection. So we want to get at least copies of that, so if they don’t pass it down, we’ll have that here for the future,” Lanning said.
To efficiently complete the project, Lanning stressed a need for volunteers to help with the process of researching and getting in touch with family members of soldiers, and Bowman emphasized that the project will require certain expenses to undertake and any donations or sponsors to the cause are more than welcome.
Anyone interested in contributing information, donations or volunteer support for the project can contact the Prince George Regional Heritage Center at 804-863-0212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wade Lanning and the Prince George Regional Heritage Center are looking for any information regarding the following known Prince George soldiers who are listed on the monuments outside of the heritage center as well as any information regarding any other unlisted soldiers from Prince George who died during a conflict while serving for the United States: