Honoring Belleville’s World War I dead


Embedded in the cemetery wall just west of the main entrance of St. Peter’s Church on William St. is a marble plaque bearing the following names:

Harry Benjamin Blekicki
Carmine Caruccio
Edward Joseph Crowell
Michael Augustine Flynn
Henry Charles Hoag
George John Kalvio
Edward Joseph Kane
Charles McGinty
Thomas Joseph Mooney
Michael John Murray
Charles Aloysius Schaffer
William Thomas Smith
Fred W. Stockham

It was formally dedicated on Memorial Day 1929 in a ceremony attended by an estimated 5,000 people — among them Belleville’s last-surviving Civil War veteran, John Barrett.

Since then, thousands more have walked past this plaque, but it is fair to assume that, as the decades have passed, less and less notice has been paid to it. One wonders if, today, anyone notices it at all. In the words of Michael Perrone, president of the Belleville Historical Society,  “It was in total disrepair.”

The ravages of time have made the names virtually unreadable and there is no clear indication as to what it even represents which is patriotism, courage and the ultimate sacrifice made by American troops in World War I.

According to Perrone, 700 men from the township served in the Great War, and 21 of those died.  

Belleville’s main World War I monument to all of them is on Union Ave. 

The 13 soldiers listed above and on the William St. plaque were all parishioners of St. Peter’s. And all but two of them were buried on the Western Front where they fell. The exceptions were Crowell and Flynn (son of Belleville’s first police chief, Michael Flynn).

Both decorated combat veterans, they survived the war but died after the 1918 Armistice. Crowell and Flynn had been best friends since boyhood, and they signed up together when America entered the war.  It was only fitting that, in August 1919, they came home together.

(See photo of funeral procession on Washington Ave.) They also are interred near each other in St. Peter’s Cemetery.

This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, Perrone, Belleville Historical Commission Chairman Tom Grolimond, who is a Board of Education trustee, and Councilman Kevin Kennedy have taken on the daunting task of restoring the plaque to its original beauty.  

This will entail not only removing nearly 90 years of grime, but also repairing holes and breaks in the stone, refining the names, giving it a new finish, building out the base and adding a white stone top with a cross. “We want to make it look like a monument,” noted Perrone, a professional stonemason. (“He’s not just a mason; he’s an artist,” commented one onlooker.)

So dedicated are these volunteer restorers that, when work began about a week ago, they also cleaned off the cemetery wall in which the plaque is embedded — and removed all the moss that had covered the older portion of the wall nearer the church steps.

The Rev. Ivan Sciberras, pastor of St. Peter’s, told The Observer: “I feel extremely indebted to Mr. Perrone and the Belleville Historical Society for so graciously bringing the War Memorial at St. Peter’s Cemetery back to life, and also for their willingness to help us ensure that the tombs of the fallen soldiers continue to be cared for.”  

You see, the St. Peter’s plaque is not the only challenge on the Society’s current to-do list. Explained Perrone: “We will be cleaning the tombstones of all the World War I veterans buried throughout Belleville as we identify them. (Note:As we identify them. This is going to entail some intensive research as well as restoration.)

The plan, Perrone continued, “is to be done by the Veteran’s/Armistice Day commemoration in November.”

We thought he must mean November 2018, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Not so.

The goal is to have it all completed by this November. 

Considering the Society’s penchant for taking on formidable tasks, we believe that goal will indeed be met.

[Editor’s note: By the way, all this restoration work is costing Belleville nothing. The Historical Society has taken care of all the funding. However, anyone wishing to support its various programs is invited to join the Friends of the Belleville Historical Society. Annual membership is $20, which can be sent to: Belleville Historical Society, P.O. Box 580, Belleville, N.J. 07109.]

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