As a former social studies teacher, Danny Waite always has had a fascination with history.
In his job as caretaker of Dover's Lakeside Cemetery, he's also familiar with each grave under his care. But he's much more familiar with the graves and memorial markers for the cemetery's military personnel, particularly those who lost their lives in combat.
"I was curious. One day, I just took two of the names to the public archives and started looking up information on them," Waite said. "One was Capt. Edgar Clayton Boggs, who was killed in the Philippines in 1945. The other was Robert J. Burger, who was lost at sea on an oil tanker in 1943."
That was in 2004. Waite later met Burger's sister, Elizabeth Casson, at the cemetery, and she started talking about her brother. Waite learned he and Burger had a lot in common.
"Finding out that he lived just four or five houses down from me on State Street, and that he had grown up going to Dover High and fishing on Silver Lake surprised me," he said.
Waite began to do more research, and soon decided to offer tours of veterans' gravesites each Memorial Day. This year, the cemetery will be open for self-guided public tours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Waite will provide guided tours at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Over the years, Waite has combed the public archives, rolls of microfilm, cemetery records and recollections of friends and relatives of the deceased servicemen. He's encapsulated much of that information onto poster boards, which he places near each gravesite.
The best part about his research is meeting the veterans' family members and either hearing personal stories about each man or giving the families copies of his work.
"When I meet family members who don't know what I know and I give them this stuff, it just opens up a whole new world for them about their loved ones," he said.
Here is a brief synopsis of just a few military veterans Waite has researched.
Josiah Oliver Wolcott Jr.
Perhaps one of the most recognized monuments is for an individual who isn't even buried there: Josiah Oliver Wolcott Jr., a prominent Dover attorney who drowned Oct. 18, 1944, while on convoy duty.
"The thing I love about Josiah is that he was rejected by the Army and Navy, but still found a way to serve," Waite said.
Wolcott, who was 32 when he died, was the son of Josiah Oliver Wolcott, another well-known Dover lawyer who had served as a United States senator and later as chancellor of Delaware. The younger Wolcott was a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and had made a name for himself not only in legal circles but in political ones as an up and coming member of the Democratic party.
Page 2 of 4 - In March 1944 Wolcott secured a position within the Army's Transport Command. In early October 1944 he was in command of a tugboat that was part of what became known as Convoy 119, an effort to move boats and railroad equipment across the Atlantic to replace equipment lost in European ports on D-Day and later.
The convoy encountered a vicious storm on Oct. 18, resulting in Wolcott's drowning and the deaths of 18 other men.
"It was his way of getting involved, even being on that tugboat that should not have been out on the ocean," Waite said.
Confirmation of his death was not received in Dover until Dec. 7, by which time his son, Josiah O. Wolcott III, was already a month old.
Gilbert Beardsley Willis
Lt. Gilbert Willis is another Delaware native who is memorialized at Lakeside Cemetery but is buried elsewhere.
A graduate of the Dover High School Class of 1940, Willis was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Forces and sent to England in July 1944. The family lived at 217 Pennsylvania Ave., a home that stands today near Central Middle School.
Willis father was J.O. Willis, Dover's city clerk at the time of his son's death.
"I had an opportunity to meet Gilbert's sister through another World War II veteran I'd interviewed," Waite said. "She talked about the night she last saw him in New York City and how the next morning the family went to the Empire State Building and watched as his squadron flew over New York, headed for Europe."
Willis died Sept. 8, 1944 while serving as copilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress. He was on his sixth mission over Germany when a burst of anti-aircraft fire ripped into the plane's cockpit, killing him instantly. He was buried in an American cemetery in France.
Willis' family received the news of his death in a personal letter from a fellow officer, Marvin Nachtsheim, received on Sept. 22, 1944.
"In future days, all that he has been to you and all of us, and all that you have been to him will be greatly remembered," Nachtsheim wrote.
The official notice from the War Department arrived the following day.
John Milburn Godwin
Pvt. John M. Godwin was 18 years old when he became Dover's first casualty of the Korean War.
A member of the Dover High School Class of 1951, Godwin had quit school in 1950 to enlist at the outbreak of the Korean War. He was sent overseas with the 25th Infantry Division in August and was killed in action on Sept. 16, 1950.
"He was always a jolly boy and loved to tease," Godwin's sister, Ann Shorts wrote in a letter to Waite. "He had lots of friends, male and female."
Page 3 of 4 - The Class of 1951 dedicated its yearbook to Godwin, whose picture was published in the book's frontispiece.
"To 'Millie,'" it read, "who was known and liked by everyone, and whom all of us now greatly miss, who always had a smile on his face and a joke up his sleeve."
Charles Harrington Fleming Jr.
Although not originally from Dover, Lt. Charles H. "Carl" Fleming Jr. grew up in the capital city, and lived with his family at 34 N. State St. He went to Dover schools before graduating from a military academy in Virginia.
Fleming began his military service before World War II when he enlisted as a U.S. Army private and later served in the Philippines. He was discharged after the war and moved to Connecticut, but enlisted again at the start of the Korean War, earning his officer's commission shortly afterward. He was serving as a platoon leader at the time of his death.
"What is most notable about Fleming is his heroics in winning two Silver Stars," Waite said. "In both situations, he put himself in front of his men. The back of his gravestone has a plaque put there by the men in his platoon. They knew he was the guy who'd take care of them and he gave up his life so they could fight another day."
That plaque describes Fleming as the platoon's "leader and amigo."
Fleming was awarded his first Silver Star, one of the nation's highest awards for bravery in combat, in December 1950 when he used a furious combination of rifle, pistol and rocket fire to drive off enemy soldiers. The second award was given posthumously for his actions just a month later when he was mortally wounded while directing fire toward an enemy position.
Spec. 4 Nolan Ray was an All-State football player and 1962 graduate of Dover High School before he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966. He was sent to Vietnam in March 1967.
Ray, whose family lived at 80 N. Halsey Road, Edgehill, was a month away from leaving combat when he was seriously wounded Feb. 3, 1968. He was evacuated to a military hospital in the Philippines, where he was treated for numerous shrapnel wounds.
A Dover woman living in the Philippines visited Ray during his hospital stay, and reported he had recovered enough to want "a steak sandwich and French fries as soon as the hole in his stomach heals."
Unfortunately, Ray's condition took a turn for the worse and he died April 12, 1968. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal by Gen. William Westmoreland while in the hospital, and the Bronze Star Medal, with V for valor device, after his death.
Page 4 of 4 - Waite, who coached Dover football for 17 years, said Ray was one of the team's standouts during his playing years and was featured often in local newspapers.
Ray's father, Harold Ray, was able to fly to the Philippines to be with his son before he died, Waite said.
Dover and Smyrna high schools established the Clough- Ray trophy, named for Ray and Smyrna football player Bruce Clough, another Delaware soldier who died in Vietnam, in 1968.