The upstairs of the Morris American Legion Post 294 at 212 W. Washington St. is home to the Veterans Legacy Center, a museum dedicated to “telling, honoring and educating.”
It’s the passion project of Carter Corsello, a 22-year, active service veteran of the Army and Jeff Poundstone, an eight-year U.S. Army veteran and three-year veteran of the National Guard.
The project started three years ago as an effort to chronicle the 38 World War I gold star veterans of Grundy County, which is now a complete work he showed at the Grundy County Historical Society on Oct. 24.
“When I looked into the corner and saw the gold stars which, at that time, had 102 names, I saw that nobody is telling their stories,” Corsello said, pointing to a spot in the southeast corner of the museum that lists many of those who served from the area. “At the minimum, I wanted to have a book you could look at to see when they did, where they served, and one that tells their story in a simplistic form.”
That plan grew into something bigger when Corsello and Poundstone started working to tell these stories.
“That evolved into something more than that,” Corsello said. “It needed to be something more like a book where we share the entire story.”
The book that’s coming out, which they presented Oct. 24, is only the first. Corsello said there are plans to do the same sort of book for World War II, and all subsequent wars after that.
The museum honors all Grundy County veterans and features keepsakes, uniforms and biographical information on veterans from most conflicts. The book, titled “World War I Gold Star Veterans of Grundy County,” honors the 38 gold star veterans who lost their lives in WWI. Nineteen died of the Spanish Flu, 17 were killed in action, one died of a heart attack and one was never found.
“Jeff poked me enough to get moving on the project, and we’ve put some earnest work in,” Corsello said. “We had a good draft in May and now we have a final draft.”
The honored veterans include Fireman 3rd Class Alfred Baker, Pvt. Christ Christensen Beck, Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Huber Branham, Pvt. William Diament Bridel, Pvt. Peter Edward Cantu, Cpl. Joseph Raymond Cantwell, Pvt. 1st Class Michael Francis Carney, Paul Abraham Melvin Carter, Joseph Cerveny, Pvt. Cesare Constantino, Pvt. John Batiste Crosetto, Cpl. Glenn Gerard Dahlam, Pvt. Claude Franklin Danner, Cpl. John Decheko, Frank Lloyd Elerding, Pvt. William Thomas George, Petty Officer William Maxwell Graves, Gerald M. Gross, Pvt. Rudolph Hajek, George Alfred Hughes, 2nd Lt. William Andrew Joos, Benjamin Kaplan, Pvt. Thomas Francis Kinsella, Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Jerby Lord, Pvt. Ralph D. Madsen, Pvt. Thomas Frank Morrisy, Pvt. Alfred Nolan Nelson, Pvt. Leonard Ostrowski, Cpl. John “Porky” Pavlis, Pvt. Victor Peterson, Wagoner Andrew Cornelius Ragnes, Pvt. Frank Schwab, Pvt. Joseph Sestak, Pvt. Clifford Walter Sproull, Cpl. Andrew Cardwell Tallman, Wagoner Ornel Adolph Tesdall, Cpl. Nils Thompson and Cpl. Charles Violet.
Dedications for all 38 gold star veterans can be found around Grundy County at the plaque on the courthouse steps at 111 E. Washington St., the WWI kiosk inside the courthouse, a dedication in Coal City and the flagpole at the Immaculate Conception Church at 516 E. Jackson St.
“I found great enjoyment in identifying these men and telling their story,” Poundstone said. “These guys, the gold star guys, they’re American heroes. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. This book represents the best of a generation.”
Names were also taken from an old news article depicting a WWI victory parade.
Corsello and Poundstone said in the book that they cannot claim the book is complete:
“For each individual, there could always be more detail gathered and written,” according to the book. “The refinement of details could be small like identifying their assigned serial number. In other cases, it could be something that gives personal details that open a door to what this individual has accomplished in their time alive and imagination to what it could have been.”
The Grundy County Veterans Legacy Center & Museum is accepting missing information that may complete the record. Those interested in seeing the collection should visit the museum or visit the Veterans Legacy Center website at legionpost294.org/veterans-legacy-center, where Corsello and Poundstone have collected video interviews, documents and photos depicting the stories of Grundy County veterans.
The book is available for a $35 donation to the Veterans Legacy Center.