On Friday a Medal of Honor recipient will be laid to rest at Kansas’s Leavenworth National Cemetery.
Discovered in the mud and muck at the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lansing, Kansas, by veteran George Westbrook, a volunteer for Wreaths Across America, the remains of Sgt. Robert McPhelan were found in a section that was reserved for paupers or unclaimed bodies.
“That just got my brain going. No veteran should ever be buried in a Potter’s field, and especially not a Medal of Honor recipient,” Michelle Cebe, a coordinator for Wreaths Across America at Kansas’s Leavenworth National Cemetery, told Military.com.
McPhelan, who was born in County Laois, Ireland in 1837 before immigrating to New York, was awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions during the Indian Campaigns while serving with Company E, 5th U.S. Infantry.
Presented the medal in 1877 by Gen. William T. Sherman for his actions at Cedar Creek, Montana — the campaign that defeated Lakota Chief Sitting Bull — little else is known about McPhelan’s gallantry.
Brief Medal of Honor citations were common throughout the 19th century before far more stringent requirements were adopted at the end of World War I.
In order to move McPhelan’s gravesite, Cebe tracked down “the family to ask for permission. Then, she needed consent from the cemetery and had to raise funds to complete the task,” writes Military.com.
From there, the campaign took off with Cebe raising the requisite $3,000 to move the veteran’s remains after reaching out to local American Legion and Association of the United States Army chapters.
McPhelan, who worked at Fort Leavenworth until his death in 1884, will be exhumed privately. His family has asked that if he had been buried with his medal, it be photographed and reburied with him, according to Military.com.
Two of McPhelan’s great- great-granddaughters and one great-great-great-granddaughter will be in attendance on Friday as the MoH recipient receives a new headstone etched in gold.
“We are so excited,” says McPhelan’s great-great-granddaughter Lori Rogers. “He deserved so much more.”