For the last four weeks, we’ve been honoring Mason County’s fallen members of the U.S. Armed Forces, from the American Revolution through World War I. For the last article of the month, I’d like to pause to talk about one of our projects at the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society.
Since our first cemetery project five years ago, at Brown Cemetery in Hartford, the Society has been committed to honoring our county’s veterans. Some organizations organize parades or hold benefits, and such efforts in our community will always have our support! For our own part, though, the Society will always work to ensure that their resting places are honored and their stories remembered.
The first is relatively simple since our main project is the documentation and restoration of our county’s cemeteries. Our focus for the last three years has been locating and marking cemeteries across the county, all 543 of them. We’re getting closer to finishing that phase, and we’ll soon be moving on to documenting every individual headstone in each cemetery, during which all military service will be noted. That list will help us properly mark each veteran’s grave each Memorial Day, especially as those cemeteries are cleaned and restored.
That, however, is not why I wanted to write this article. Cemeteries are a physical part of our history, the mortal remains of our past, and I’m a firm believer that every stone has a story. However, a headstone can only tell so much of that story. It can tell us, for example, that James Hall was the Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th West Virginia Infantry. It can’t, however, tell us of his valor at Cedar Creek, when a still-wounded Hall rallied his regiment before his death. Those stories of sacrifice, of service to country, must be preserved in our histories lest we forget the cost of our nation’s freedoms.
That is why the Society is officially launching the Mason County Veterans Project, the next step in a project that we’ve been working on for some time. It’ll still take quite a while to finish, but the end result will be a Mason County Album of Honor similar to those produced during World War II. It will of course be published as a physical book, but it will also be developed into an interactive exhibit in the future Mason County Museum.
The project will be organized chronologically by conflict beginning with Lord Dunmore’s War and ending with the Persian Gulf War for now, including a section on peacetime service. It will, of course, be updated later to include service in the War on Terror, but it would be inappropriate to include that information while those conflicts are ongoing. Each chapter will include a brief history of that conflict, recruiting efforts and industrial mobilization, and battles or events in Mason County.
After that brief history will be biographies of service members who were either A) born in Mason County or B) died or were buried in Mason County. For historical conflicts, before World War II, those biographies will essentially be short life stories focused around a detailed service description. Sticking with James Hall, an example could be something like this.
James Robert Hall, born 1838 to John and Olivia Hall. Brother of Major John Thomas Hall, 4th West Virginia Infantry. Educated at the Virginia Military Institute, James was a merchant before the Civil War. In 1862, he led the organization of the 13th West Virginia Infantry and was appointed the regiment’s major and later promoted to lieutenant colonel. Present at the Battles of Buffington Island, Cloyd’s Mountain, Lexington, Lynchburg, Second Kernstown, where he was shot in the wrist and struck by an artillery fragment, and Cedar Creek, where he was killed while rallying his regiment. Saluted by his commander, future President Rutherford B. Hayes, as “one of the bravest of the brave,” James was buried next to his brother in the Hogg Cemetery in Camp Conley.
As for modern conflicts, and especially living veterans, how much information is included will be up to them and their family. While we believe every veteran deserves to be honored for their service, we also recognize that there is a fundamental right to privacy.
Anyone with information that they would like to contribute may reach out to our board member and Mason County Veterans Project coordinator, Angelique Juelfs-Johnson at Angeliquejj@yahoo.com.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.