Joan Harbin, a volunteer at the Carnegie Historical Society, has been trying to solve a mystery since April when she received a call from Louis Waters, a World War II veteran from Springfield, Ohio, who was a tail gunner on a B-17 in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Mr. Waters wanted to know if she could help him find any living relatives of Robert C. Stewart Jr., a technical sergeant from Scott who had served with him in the 429th squadron, 2nd bomber group, flying missions out of Amendola Air Field in Foggia, Italy.
Stewart was a 1937 graduate of Scott High School, which later became Chartiers Valley High School.
Stewart flew 22 missions with the 429th as a waist gunner and radio operator. His B-17 was shot down on July 27, 1944, while on a mission to Blechhammer, Germany. He was captured by the Germans and sent to Dulag-Luft Wetzler, Germany, where he died of scarlet fever on Nov. 7, 1944.
Mr. Waters explained that people from the Netherlands wanted to get in touch with Stewart’s family.
“The Dutch people have adopted the graves of American servicemen buried in the American War Cemetery in Margraten, and the family that adopted Sgt. Stewart’s grave wanted to let his living relatives know that his grave was being cared for,” she said.
Contacted at his home in Springfield, Mr. Waters, who is a past president of the 2nd Bombardment Association, said the Dutch people are very respectful of the 8,301 American servicemen from World War II who are buried at Margraten.
“Every year on holidays like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day, they place flowers on the graves,” he said.
Jean Paul Wyers, the Dutch man who contacted him about Stewart, told him honoring Americans who died in World War II is a tradition in the Netherlands that will continue even with the young people who have no living memory of the war,
This year his daughter’s school class laid wreaths at the Margraten Memorial, he said.
Mr. Wyers had researched the 1940 American census and two genealogy websites where he found that Stewart was born in Carnegie in 1918, but he couldn’t find out any more about his family, so he asked if Mr. Waters could help.
Mr. Waters then called the Carnegie Historical Society, which often does genealogical research for people with ties to Carnegie.
Mrs. Harbin was reading a document called “General Marshall’s Victory Report” when he called.
Published in 1945, the report listed the servicemen from Carnegie who had fought in the war.
“Sure enough Robert Stewart’s name was in the report,” she said.
She went to the historical society archive of old newspapers and found an obituary for Stewart’s father, who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, a few months before Stewart was born. She found another obituary for his mother who died just four years later.
“He had a tragic life. He was an orphan by the time he was 4 years old, but I can’t find out who raised him. I just hit a brick wall,” she said.
She discovered that he graduated from Scott High School in 1937. She went to the historical society collection of old high school yearbooks, but their collection of Scott High yearbooks, called “The Scottie,” went back only to 1938. She contacted the school district for a copy of the 1937 book.
Mrs. Harbin found Stewart’s class picture and several group pictures of him with the baseball and basketball teams.
“He did quite well in high school and was involved in a lot of school activities, but I couldn’t find out anything more about him until he enlisted in the service,” she said.
Despite all of her research, she hasn’t been able to find any living relatives, so that she can put them in touch with the family in the Netherlands who has adopted his grave.
“They want to send pictures of the grave to let his family know that he hasn’t been forgotten and his grave is being cared for,” she said.
Mrs. Harbin, who has been a volunteer at the historical society for four years, said she does it because she likes history, and she was determined to help find the relatives of Stewart because of her family’s tradition of military service.
“My dad, husband and daughter were all in the service,” she said.
Plot M, Row 18, Grave 17, the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Netherlands, is the final resting place of Stewart, and Mrs. Harbin hopes someone will come forward with information about his relatives. They can call 412-276-7447.
Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.