From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Three Civil War veterans and Medal of Honor recipients are buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery, but until last week their graves went without headstones that marked their military contributions.
Robert McPhelan, Thomas Kelly and Patrick Leonard, who also fought in Indian wars, will be honored Sunday with the dedication of new headstones, which bear Medal of Honor designations. Civil War re-enactments of the color guard and chaplain's benediction also will mark the event, which is scheduled for 2 p.m.
"This is the first time three headstones have been dedicated at the same cemetery at the same time," said Sonny Wells of the Medal of Honor Society, which will conduct the ceremony at Mount Calvary Cemetery. "It's taken me four years to pull all this together."
Wells of Liberty, Mo., started with a list provided by Ray Collins, who heads eastern research for the Medal of Honor Historical Society. For several years, Collins sought to locate the graves of five Medal of Honor recipients. He contacted Wells because of his extensive Civil War records.
"I had records on all five, so I sent it right back to him. He called me immediately and believe me he was out of his gourd with excitement. So he sent me a list of 200 more," he said.
Wells visited cemeteries throughout the Midwest, but three names kept pointing to Leavenworth. Wells said his search brought him to Mount Calvary several times until he finally verified all three burials.
"You have to locate the graves and verify through the records that they are buried there. Photographs are taken of the existing headstone or the area where the grave was located," he said.
Once the graves sites were located, the list was sent to Edward Murphy, the president of the Medal of Honor Historical Society. Soon afterward, Wells and Murphy began placing military headstones on the graves.
"The VA has been super about ordering the headstones. Just as soon as we get the verification we need, I give them a call and let them know the paper work is coming. In no time, they have the headstone ordered. The trouble we run into is often with the descendants," he said.
Before a military headstone can be placed on the gravesite, relatives must give their permission. Wells says some families just don't want the graves disturbed, even though their family member won the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,400 recipients, and the society is in the process of locating the grave sites of 320 more persons. With the location of McPhelan, Kelly and Leonard in Mount Calvary, 15 Medal of Honor recipients are buried in Leavenworth County. Only Arlington National Cemetery has more, Wells said.
CHECKING DATES -- Sonny Wells verifies a date on the headstone at the grave of Patrick Thomas Leonard, one of three Medal of Honor recipients whose new headstones will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Sunday in Mount Calvary Cemetery. (Times Photo by J. J. Zeman)