Homewood Cemetery bus tour to visit veterans' graves

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One year after World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1919, families and widows continued to grieve. Bitter tears boiled into anger and frustration when American families learned that France would not return the bodies of their beloved boys for three years. That prompted 400 mothers, fathers and widows to gather in a Pittsburgh courthouse and form an organization called the Bring Home The Dead Soldier League. 

One of the league’s organizers was David Beatty Maxwell, a prominent lawyer. Today, he lies in his family’s plot at Homewood Cemetery near his son, Edgar, a soldier who died in France nearly a century ago. 

Honoring and remembering the brave people who paid for our freedom with their lives is the purpose of Memorial Day. For the first time since it opened in 1873, Homewood Cemetery will offer a free bus tour Sunday of the graves of 17 veterans. The free tours depart at 11 a.m., noon and 1, 3:15 and 4:15 p.m.

In the past, the cemetery has offered walking tours of its nearly 200 acres in the city’s East End. But a bus, which is accessible to people who have disabilities, allows more people to see the graves and the grounds.

Homewood hold the remains of soldiers who served in the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I and World War II, said Jennie Benford, programming director for The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund. Ms. Benford and Marilyn Evert, the author of a book on Pittsburgh sculpture, will narrate the bus tours. Visitors are asked to reserve their seat for a tour by calling 412-421-1822. 

The Maxwell family plot is one of the 17 stops on the tour. The fact that father and son lie together is due in part to an impassioned speech on Nov. 13, 1919, before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, D.C.

"A few days ago, I stood beside the casket of a mother whose son helped stem the tide of advance of the Hun horde at Belleau Wood,“ said J.D. Foster, president of the league’s Pittsburgh chapter.

 ”She patiently waited the solace of kneeling at the tomb of her son here in his native land. ... The months of waiting and uncertainty -- the apparent ingratitude of her country proved too much. Her physical heart lost hope with her spiritual heart. Our prayer is that she is now with her boy in that home of the soul. Alas, many other mothers are doomed to a like fate.“

Months later, her son’s body and hundreds of others were returned to the United States to be buried in their family plots.

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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