LE ROY — A couple years ago, the Le Roy Historical Society dedicated the World War I monument at Trigon Park.
However, when it comes to the World War II monument, other than the fact 31 men are listed on the black granite, the historical society does not have files on them and very little is known about them and the monument itself.
Lynne Belluscio, Le Roy historian, decided to put a story to the names of the men who gave their lives during World War II who were from Le Roy.
Natalie Orman, an intern from SUNY Geneseo, is working on the project to compile files on the 31 men whose names are engraved on the World War II memorial at Trigon Park.
“We had talked about all the different things she might do to learn what it’s like to work at a small historical society,” said Belluscio. “We had quite an ambitious program, and she had to get it approved by her professor — which she did — and then we went into lockdown.”
Still wanting to give Orman the opportunity, and especially since she would be living with her grandmother to be able to work at the historical society, they began to line up different projects, one of which was the World War II monument project.
As they began to put information together, they found there were names that were spelled wrong. They pieced together the scraps of history and the stories of the men who gave their lives.
Part of the project was getting photographs of the grave sites — they identified several men who have gravestones in Le Roy.
With Joan Fernaays’ help, they were able to find all but one: James Fagan, an aviator who was killed in action in the Southwest Pacific in 1945. He was survived by his wife, Nance, and daughter, Kay Ellen.
Belluscio said they think there is a stone at St. Francis Cemetery, but very little is known about Fagan beyond he graduated from South Byron High School in 1941, his parents lived in Le Roy and his wife lived in Churchville. However, recently on Wednesday afternoon, the historical society managed to get in contact with his niece.
While talking with Fernaays, she said high school students will be cleaning the stones with supplies purchased by the Legion Women’s Auxiliary.
“What we want to do when the kids are over there cleaning the stones, because of course my motto is ‘All history is local history,’ is that Natalie will go over and share some of the stories of the guys,” Belluscio said. “They were young kids out of high school.”
Orman hails from Saranac Lake, and said her desire to work with a historical society started with her grandmother.
“She knew I was interested in going into a museum field once I graduated with a history degree, and she knew Lynne was looking for someone,” she said. “I was really interested to work with her because she seemed really interesting from what my mom and grandma was saying. As soon as I started, starting this project especially, it’s been kind of crazy. I’ve been enjoying it a lot.”
Orman said she didn’t know what they would be doing from day to day. When they went to St. Francis, she said she was dressed mainly in black clothes and heels, but was ready to go and find the gravestones.
“It’s really interesting to confront yourself with the faces of these men,” she said. “I think it’s particularly right now with the pandemic going on, it’s just numbers, and fatalities are people.”
Even though she said she knew about World War II, this was the first time she looked at it in ages and the faces of the people who fought in it — that these people were her age who left so much and did so much, earning Purple Hearts and battle stars.
Orman will be applying to work in a museum in Dublin next spring, and said she’s interested in seeing the difference between working in a small village versus a large city, especially one that is foreign.
“I think people misconceive learning history that it is just memorization,” she said. “It’s figuring out how to find connections between people, and what’s happened previously. How things have interacted. I’m really enjoying how people would connect over things you wouldn’t expect until you look into the books.”