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Archive for Saturday, May 26, 2001

Civil War hero gets grave marker

May 26, 2001

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— This Memorial Day will be the first in more than 75 years that a headstone will mark the grave of Civil War hero John Henry Callahan.

The private in the Illinois Infantry earned the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor. But after his death in 1914 he was buried next to his wife, Lucinda, in an unmarked grave.

Nearly nine decades later, Fort Riley Sgt. John Luerding began hearing rumors this year of a Medal of Honor recipient buried in an unmarked Manhattan grave. The Civil War Buff began a search that led him to Callahan.

"I am in the Army - the same Army he was in," Luerding said. "I felt it was my duty to help him get the honors he was deserving - to get him a headstone."

Luerding first talked to a sexton who handles both the cemeteries in Manhattan. He offered the sexton two clues: he heard the man had been married, and he thought the man's wife had been "Lucinda."

The sexton searched the cemetery records and urged Luerding to try the name Callahan.

Luerding logged onto an Internet site listing all the nation's Medal of Honor winners. It was there that he found Callahan's name and learned the soldier was awarded the medal in June 1865 after he seized a Confederate flag at the battle of Fort Blakley, Ala.

Luerding and Scott Price, the community relations officer at Fort Riley, sent off for paperwork and filled out Department of Veterans Affairs forms, requesting a tombstone for Callahan.

Finally, a standard government-issued granite upright veteran headstone arrived for Callahan. It had gold-leaf lettering denoting a Medal of Honor recipient.

Luerding and 150 Callahan family members from across the nation plan to honor Pvt. Callahan on Monday at Sunset Cemetery.

"I am so excited I don't know what to think," said Lois Lewis of Manhattan, Callahan's great-granddaughter. "I think any soldier who fights in a war should be honored. Any serviceman who puts his life on the line is honorable."

Luerding said he now wonders how many other Kansas veterans might be lying in unmarked graves.

"I've got to respect a person for fighting for what they believe," Luerding said. "To me, soldiers are soldiers. If I die, I'd certainly like my family to pay their respects."

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