Bob Smiley now lives in Chincoteague, Virginia, but he hasn’t forgotten about his old neighborhood.
Smiley, creator of the Frankford Gazette, last month released the second edition of “Frankford Heroes: Small town patriotism in a Philadelphia neighborhood,” a book profiling the lives of 142 soldiers from the neighborhood who died in the line of duty.
The book’s first edition came out in 2017, and Smiley decided to re-release it after discovering a cache of local men who died in the Civil War.
In the midst of research, he came across a newspaper report about the dedication of a Civil War monument at Cedar Hill Cemetery. Today, Smiley said, the monument is unreadable, worn away by time, but the article listed the names of 120 men from the area who died while fighting for the Union.
“The second edition, really, was to research all of these guys from the Civil War,” he said. “I did it slowly, over a couple of years.”
Alfred Clymer’s name was on the monument. He grew up on a farm in Bucks County and bounced around, living on several farms in the region after his mother died. At 14, he joined the 121st Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Clymer fought for two years, becoming a sergeant, until June 2, 1864, when his regiment was exchanging fire with Confederate troops and he was badly wounded, according to Smiley’s research. He later died at the hospital at age 16.
“That sort of stuck with me because he was a young kid,” Smiley said. “It seems he had no real home.”
He said Clymer was among the first to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, which began accepting burials a couple of months prior to his death.
It’s unclear how Clymer was connected to Frankford, or why his name was added to the monument.
“It may have been that they thought so much of him that they decided to put him on the monument anyway because he served with a lot of Frankford people,” Smiley said.
The 122-page second edition includes 96 new profiles as well as 47 articles about living veterans, which were gleaned from the Gazette’s “Veteran of the Month” features, most of which were written by Frankford resident Richard Johnson.
Smiley served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, but that’s not what drew his attention to soldiers who died in the line of duty.
In 2014, he was working on a separate project documenting burials at St. Joachim Cemetery when he found a headstone belonging to Joseph Alexander Coyle. Smiley noticed it was a military headstone, and he decided to research Coyle.
The first thing he discovered about Coyle, who died of pneumonia during World War I, was a photograph of the young man in his U.S. Army uniform.
“He’s 26 years old. Probably had that picture taken in the spring of 1918 when he was in training,” Smiley said. “He’s sitting there looking at the camera, and he’s all proud of himself. He’s a soldier. And four months later, he was dead in France.”
Smiley began thinking of the World War I memorial on Wakeling Street near Frankford Stadium, which lists about 2,000 locals who served during the conflict.
“It kind of bothered me in a way,” he said. “You had these names on stone, or in some other monument, but you don’t know who they are.”
For each of the profiles, Smiley tried to get some personal information and details about where they lived, where they worked and how they were killed. His goal is to give readers a picture of the soldier.
Smiley said he used Ancestry, a genealogy service, and newspaper archives to piece together the book, in addition to regimental histories and other resources.
“Bob has worked very hard on it,” said Pat Smiley, Bob’s wife. “Tracking down documentation hasn’t always been easy.”
There were some surprises, like when he began researching Raymond McAteer, who was killed in March 1945, not long before the end of World War II. Smiley learned that McAteer and his newlywed, Mary, had lived at the same address on the 4800 block of Penn Street that he and Pat occupied before moving to Chincoteague in March.
“I’d been walking around with Raymond’s ghost for the last 40 years and didn’t realize it,” Smiley said.
Smiley told the Times last week he was finishing up a “Frankford Heroes” e-book with sources and links for readers to explore.
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.