DANVILLE, Ill. (Tribune News Service — It took 168 years, but Army Pvt. James Thompson finally received the military service he deserved Friday.
Family members and a crowd of more than 50 people gathered just after the rain stopped at the Danville National Cemetery to honor the soldier who died in the Mexican-American War in 1847.
“It was awesome,” Barbara Switzer of Cayuga, Ind., his great-great-granddaughter, said afterward. “It was so patriotic. It’s amazing.”
Switzer had spent 10 years researching her ancestors before she came upon information about Thompson, who had been a farmer in the Ridge Farm area.
Switzer, a Westville native, discovered Thompson had died in a hospital while serving with Company I, 2nd Illinois Infantry Division in 1847, and was buried in a mass grave in Tampico, Mexico, at age 52.
After getting proof of his military service, she was able to get a memorial headstone through the National Cemetery.
Tears filled the eyes of Switzer and others during the short ceremony, which involved a gun salute, a prayer and flag presentations. She was accompanied by her husband, Russell, as well as a niece, daughter and a cousin whom she met while during research online. The cousin, Karen Dillman, and her husband, Keith, traveled from Wellington to honor her distant relative.
“I’m honored to be here. This is important to me,” Dillman said.
Opening the service, cemetery representative Rudi Shelton said, “Finally, 168 years later, we get to pay respect to a gentleman who was all but forgotten.” When Taps is played, he urged people to remember those who have made sacrifices for their country.
Later, Shelton told Thompson’s relatives, “He’s back in the ranks of his fellow soldiers. He didn’t physically make it here, but in spirit, he’s back where he belongs.”
During the service, Ron Ziemer, a chaplain with the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, read a passage from scripture, and then said, “We remember him and honor him at last for his service to his country. Thank you, James.”
Maria Adams of Danville sang “America the Beautiful.”
Representatives of the Patriot Guard presented a flag to Switzer on behalf of a grateful America, and described Thompson as a true American hero. Army representatives also presented a flag to Switzer on behalf of the president of the United States and the Army. Army Sgt. 1st Class Glen Johnson played Taps.
Illiana Civil War Historical Society re-enactors gave a gun salute with their authentic weapons.
Afterward, some walked over to the site where the marble headstone was placed. In keeping with the custom of the mid-1800s, Civil War re-enactors furled a flag and set it against a stone, and gave a gun salute. In the past, there weren’t enough flags to give to family members. Also, the headstone would have been made of wood, and it wouldn’t have lasted long.
Thompson’s headstone has his name, date of birth and date of death. The stone is No. 58, the first spot in the second row of the memorial section at the front of the cemetery.
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