Fifty years after his death in Vietnam, a young Pittston veteran is playing a role in Edgar Hartman’s cancer recovery.
Hartman, 60, also of Pittston, started ambling through the Pittston Cemetery, where Cpl. William R. Kause is buried, to help rebuild his strength after his prostate was removed. Hartman said his 19-year-old son, Patrick, accompanied him on these walks.
About a month ago, Hartman said he was drawn to the grave of Kause because he noticed he was only 19 — the same age as his son — when he was killed in September 1968.
Like Hartman’s late father, Kause was a Marine. Hartman said he got emotional gazing at the gravestone photograph of Kause in his uniform.
The gravesite had plantings and was not neglected, but Hartman said he set a personal goal to spruce it up even more as a tribute to Kause.
“This was a tragedy, and it just hit my heart,” Hartman said. “I told my son I was going to dress it up when I felt good.”
That milestone came last week, when Hartman obtained medical clearance to perform light physical work.
He scrubbed the gravestones of both Kause and his parents in the adjacent plot.
Hartman spread out mulch, planted more flowers and added a solar light. His cousin, Dorothy Ann Yencha, of Forty Fort, made a patriotic flower arrangement with flags that he set atop the gravestone.
Currently on leave from his private school maintenance job, Hartman said he also has contacted the military about a possible ceremony recognizing Kause on the 50th anniversary of his sacrifice.
Attempts by a cemetery representative and the newspaper to reach Kause’s survivors about Hartman’s project were not immediately successful.
According to 1968 news reports in the Times Leader and Evening News:
Kause was killed in action on Sept. 20 as a result of multiple missile wounds to the head and body from hostile automatic weapons during an operation at Quang Nam Province.
His parents accepted the posthumous award of several medals the following month — the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. They also received two Gold Star lapel buttons to wear in memory of their son.
The reports also said Kause was previously wounded in action in March that year while his unit was undergoing a road sweep in Quang Nam. Fragments from a hostile explosive device hit Kause.
Hartman said a few people have approached him to express support for his work at Kause’s grave, which he plans to continue.
Thinking about Kause and laboring in the dirt has helped distract Hartman from his own medical challenges, he said.
“This is therapy for me to do something like this,” Hartman said.
He chose the cemetery for his strolls because he finds burial grounds peaceful and interesting.
“Plus it’s quiet, and there’s no traffic,” Hartman said.
Bob Ayre, the lone maintenance worker at the 17-acre cemetery, said Kause’s survivors never stopped caring for his grave, but some in the cemetery’s older section no longer have visitors.
He commended Hartman for wanting to help Kause, saying the veteran “certainly deserves to be honored.”
”What Ed’s doing is a great thing. I wish I had time to make all the graves look this good,” Ayre said.
Ayre said he was asked to handle caretaking several years ago following a Pittston Cemetery Association board of trustees reorganization initiated over concerns about neglect and disrepair.
The cemetery dates back to 1847 and is the final resting place for more than 10,000, he said.
“My jaw dropped when I saw the condition of the cemetery,” he said, recalling graves that were no longer visible amid overgrowth.
Now that major maintenance problems have been addressed, Ayre manages to cut all grass at least once a week and trim around the stones and monuments every two weeks.
“I put in a lot of hours, especially in the warm months,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”
The association survives on lot sales and donations, he said.
Spending so much time among the graves, Ayre said he has become curious about many of those buried there, including victims of coal mining disasters and once influential local leaders.
“A lot of great history of Pittston is here,” he said. “I’ve kind of become a historian as well.”
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.