Mike Dudo and his daughter, Jessica, inspect one of the faded veterans grave markers at Greenwood Cemetery that they hope to replace. (Photo Dan Irwin/New Castle News)

'They're veterans, and they deserve better'

During a walk through the veterans section of a Pennsylvania cemetery, 15-year-old Jessica Dudo noticed many of the headstones had either been worn down to the point of being erased, were broken or were simply missing.

Upset by what she saw, she turned to her father Michael, a U.S. Navy Persian Gulf veteran and member of Perry S. Galston Post 343 in New Castle, Pa.

Now Michael has made it his mission to ensure that every veteran’s headstone at Greenwood Cemetery in New Castle will either be repaired or replaced. Dudo is identifying each veteran’s grave and, if the marker is damaged or missing, working to obtain a Department of Veterans Affairs grave marker with the veteran’s name and military branch on it.

“My daughter showed me (the graves) and asked what we could do about it,” said Dudo, who grew up near the cemetery and received approval from its board for his project. “(The cemetery) gave us the OK to do it. We had to check with a couple other people, and we got the OK from everybody we needed to get the OK from.”

Dudo spends weekend mornings comparing a list of names of veterans buried in the cemetery with the headstones and markers he finds. “We have a list of all the veterans in that cemetery,” Dudo said. “Originally we went through where all the flag markers were at and crossed those names off. I still had probably half the list left.”

The cemetery also has a searchable database that allows for someone to enter a name to find out in which section that person is buried. Dudo has been using that and is now going section by section to find similar graves.

“We’ve been doing this about three months now,” Dudo said. “We’ve found a little over half of the names that were on that list. We still have three sections to go through yet.”

Dudo is planning on doing fundraising down the road to obtain stone backings for the VA-provided bronze grave markers. He knows it could be a long project, but he’s all-in on it.

“They’re veterans, and they deserve better,” he said. “I actually got a phone call from a gentleman who said his grandfather was in the Civil War and was buried there. There are a couple other people I’ve come across who have family members buried there."