WWI veteran finally gets his gravestone

ROGERS CITY – In Rogers City’s Memorial Park cemetery, there’s a new gravestone marking the spot where a World War I veteran was buried nearly 86 years ago.

James Elmer Brenay served as a private in the United States Army during World War I, and died at 33 in 1928. That’s according to a white marble tombstone standing by itself in a burial lot, not too far from the Larke Avenue entrance to the cemetery.

The day’s last light shone on the stone Tuesday as a breeze ruffled the American flag in a war veteran marker. But if you’d visited that site in mid-May, that veteran marker would be the only thing you would’ve seen. That got Presque Isle Servicemen’s Club member Mike Peltz wondering.

“Every year we’ve been putting up a flag in this little flag holder, and that was the only thing in this whole lot there,” he said. “I got to thinking a few years ago, ‘why are we putting a flag there?’ There had to be a veteran there.”

So Peltz went to city hall and got a last name from the record of burial. From there, he got a death certificate from the county showing that Brenay had been born in Canada in 1895, served in the war and died in 1928 of pneumonia. Peltz has no idea how Brenay ended up in Rogers City, but he had worked as an electrician for Michigan Limestone.

There are few other clues about Brenay: he died young and Peltz said he wasn’t able to locate any family. He was able to find Brenay’s military record with the help of Ted Beck. From there, they got a serial number and a record of the veteran’s honorable discharge.

“They have all kids of paperwork and all kinds of things they had to have,” Peltz said. “Ted was very patient and managed to set aside all the government requirements for that. Eventually here about a month ago the veteran’s stone arrived, just about five days before Memorial Day.”

Along with Beck, who Peltz cited as instrumental in getting the stone, Peltz also credits the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for coming through after 85 years. While the department is mired in controversy over allegations of improper scheduling practices at its hospitals, the department gave this veteran his final honor.

Beck said he helped after hearing from Peltz, and drew on his experience as a funeral home director to get through the paperwork. It took some persistence, but he’s pleased with the end result.

“I’m happy that a World War I veteran is able to have his grave marked after all these years,” he said.

Members of the local VFW paid a special tribute to Brenay on May 26, placing a wreath at his grave and firing a salute as well, Peltz said.

Peltz served in the Korean War, and takes a lot of pleasure in getting Brenay the recognition he deserves. There are more than 450 veterans buried in the cemetery, including others who served in World War I.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.