By Steve Ghiringhelli, Staff WriterJune 12, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Sometimes the quickest, most proficient way to get a tough project knocked out is with the help of a determined volunteer.
Maj. Robert Ormsbee, activities officer for Fort Drum-Watertown Composite Squadron of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol, was looking for community service projects for his cadets when he discovered the post's Cultural Resources Program needed help with the installation of four bronze interpretive plaques mounted on a two-piece set of heavy granite stones.
Ormsbee, who works on post as chief of both the Casualty Assistance Center and the Personnel Operations Branch of the Directorate of Human Resources, gathered more details and quickly realized the magnitude of the project would prevent him from enlisting the help of his 12- and 13-year-old cadets.
But he was not deterred. Ormsbee went out and purchased a wheeled cart large enough to hold and transport the stones. He then recruited Civil Air Patrol Capt. Todd Christopherson; Pfc. Jessie Carter, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team; as well as his co-workers April Spencer and James Woolcott.
After Meg Schulz, Cultural Resources Program coordinator, took him to the cemeteries and explained where the markers needed to be, Ormsbee and his four other volunteers used their lunch time and off-duty hours to install all four markers by Memorial Day.
"(It was) no insignificant feat, given the size and weight of each one -- not to mention the need to transport two of them across the gravel roads of the training areas," said Dr. Laurie Rush, Cultural Resources Program manager.
The four markers that Ormsbee and his team installed are valued at nearly $8,000. They are unique in that no other graves on post display bronze interpretive plaques.
Funding for the four markers and for the 75 veterans markers installed on post two years ago came from the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program, which used its cash prize from an Exemplary Practice win during the 2010 Army Community of Excellence competition as a way to give back to the community.
The four new markers commemorate the following individuals.
"Clotilde," the infant granddaughter of James LeRay de Chaumont, is buried on the grounds of the LeRay Mansion. She was born and baptized at the mansion, and she died at 15 months. According to local oral history, she contracted smallpox and never recovered. Members of the LeRay family still come from France to remember Clotilde and visit her grave.
"Rachel," the African-American nurse to LeRay's children Vincent, Alexander, Therese and Clotilde, is buried at the Sheepfold Cemetery on Route 26. The LeRay children evidently liked Rachel so much that they marked her grave with a stone expressing their appreciation.
James Sterling, an early landowner and the founder of Sterlingville, is buried at Gates Cemetery on Plank Road in Training Area 5B, one of 10 cemeteries located outside the cantonment area. Sterling invested in iron furnace technology and made Sterlingville a company town.
William Anderson, an African-American who fought with New York's 26th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, is buried alongside his wife, Elisabeth, in a portion of Gates Cemetery that represents the African-American community for the area. Anderson's military records reflect that he served bravely during the war, repeatedly checking himself out of field hospitals to return to the battlefield.
On Fort Drum, there are more than 2,000 people buried in 13 cemeteries stretching from the cantonment area to the training areas.
The men, women and children interred here represent 19th- and early 20th-century populations of Fort Drum's so-called "lost villages," citizens of communities like Sterlingville, LeRaysville and Lewisburg, who moved out in the early 1940s to make room for the U.S. Army's large wartime expansion.
Each year, relatives and the general public are able to visit cemeteries on post during the Memorial Day weekend.
Ormsbee said the toughest part of the project was in transporting the stones and digging out a level area for the emplacements. But he said he was pleased with the finished product and especially happy for the opportunity to serve his post community.
"Community service has always been important to me," said Ormsbee, a founding member of the local Civil Air Patrol. "Anytime I think I can help out with a project, I do."
Cultural Resources personnel said having the project completed in time for the Memorial Day holiday was an extra special touch.
"(We) greatly appreciate Maj. Ormsbee and the efforts of his group," Rush said. "Volunteer interactions like this one make everyone's work more enjoyable and, (they) are a great opportunity for people to connect with the history of the area."