How I was able to honor a hero with the help of a few good people

Somehow, with no idea of what I was doing, I was able to get a military marker for a Civil War veteran who had none.

A cousin of mine (four times removed) was in the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War and became a prisoner of war at Libby Prison in Richmond, from which he and others made a risky and brave escape. His name was William J. Boyd, and until a couple of weeks ago he had no recognition for his service at his burial site. In fact, he had no headstone at all.

I found out about William and his lack of headstone as I was doing research for my book “This, Their Friendship’s Monument” This, Their Friendship’s Monument: How finding an 1800s autograph album led to a quest for a lost town and its people in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania eBook: Akren-Dickson, Melanie: Kindle Store. However, poor William didn’t find recognition in the pages of my book either, because it’s about the signers of an old autograph album (and William wasn’t one of the signers).

While I was doing my best to focus on the album signers, William’s headstone-less condition continued to nag at me. As I wandered from cemetery to cemetery, gathering information from headstones and taking pictures, I became more and more aware of the military markers that many (most) Civil War veterans and casualties were provided upon their deaths. And how they received the placement of a flag on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

It became clear to me that I had to do something. So I contacted a person who’s connected with the cemetery where he’s buried, who put me in contact with the people at the local Office of Veterans Affairs, who helped me fill out the application and have it sent to the Federal office, where yet someone else called to explain what final documentation was needed, which was sent by yet another person who was affiliated with the cemetery, and after more than a year it all finally came together. The military headstone/marker was approved, sent and delivered to the cemetery where it was placed, and all just in time for Memorial Day.

We live 300 miles away, but wanting to see William’s headstone in person for its first Memorial Day, my hubby and I immediately made plans to go there.

I sent a letter about it to the editor of the local paper, thinking the story might make a nice Letter to the Editor for Memorial Day. Instead, an editor from the paper called and said that they wanted to do an article about the military marker. And they did: Civil War veteran finally gets his military marker – Times News Online ( I still can hardly believe it.

This past weekend we drove up to the town where the cemetery is located, and after signing in at the inn went straight to the cemetery. And there it was, William’s military marker where a space used to be. I felt an overwhelming mix of emotions when I first spotted it. Later I placed a flag, his first one, to honor him.

Thank you for your service, William J. Boyd. And many thanks to the people who helped you to finally get the recognition you deserve.

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