Nanette Napoleon has identified about 48 Native Hawaiians who served in the Civil War - a number that's remarkable given that the American war was fought a world away. The expert on historic graveyards knows of the gravesite in Hawaii of just one: Pvt. J.R. Kealoha, a Union soldier in the 41st Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. Kealoha's grave, for whatever reason, is completely unmarked at historic Oahu Cemetery, and Napoleon and some others would like to fix that. "We have in Honolulu a U.S. veteran and Hawaiian warrior that survived nearly nine months of trench warfare and then witnessed the end of the war in Virginia," said Eric Mueller, who's done research on Kealoha. "We may never know what compelled him to travel to the U.S. and then into the U.S. Army, but we cannot dispute his bravery." Napoleon's group would like the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide an upright marble marker for Kealoha. The VA said no.
On its website, the VA says that it "furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death." The reason for the denial in Kealoha's case? No relative can be found to approve it. Prior to the 2012 implementation of a 2009 VA policy change, that wasn't a problem. A third party with appropriate documentation could order a government headstone for the unmarked grave of a veteran. In 1879, Congress approved the furnishing of stones for unmarked veterans graves in private cemeteries. Christopher Erbe, a spokesman for the VA's National Cemetery Administration, said the policy change was made not due to the cost of providing the markers, but in deference to relatives of the dead. "In the past, there have been instances of well- meaning individuals and organizations taking action to mark graves or replace headstones without the knowledge of family members," Erbe said in an email. "Making arrangements for interment and memorialization of a loved one is a very personal matter, and although we recognize that many families are grateful for assistance, we also understand that many family members do not want involvement with decisions regarding VA benefits from non-next of kin, third-parties."
But Jeff Richman, historian at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y., testified before a congressional committee on Oct. 30 that such disputes over the old burials rarely, if ever, occur. Green-Wood, which installed 1,300 Civil War markers prior to the new policy, had no complaints from descendants, he said. The United States is seven generations removed from the Civil War, Richman noted, and it takes a tremendous amount of work to locate next of kin to authorize a VA marker for an old, unmarked grave. The VA admitted last year that the new rules are "over-restrictive." Erbe said the National Cemetery Administration is reviewing the regulation. In the meantime, that leaves Kealoha's grave, dug in 1877, unmarked and his service unaccounted for. His unmarked grave - along with those of 18 other individuals - is beneath a patch of grass just off the walled, gated and raised-ground burial plot of industrialist James Campbell and his family.
The four Hawaii members of the "Private J.R. Kealoha VA Marker initiative" think it's important for the government to recognize his service - with a marker. "Kealoha represents many Hawaiian men and men from Hawaii who served in the Civil War who knew what they were getting into, who took a risk, and we all are the beneficiaries of that work and risk that they took," said Anita Manning, one of those members. "We owe it to them to recognize that service." Manning, Napoleon, Mueller and Justin Vance, president of the Hawaii Civil War Roundtable, comprise the group. Kealoha is believed to have participated in the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, which ended in March 1865. A Jan. 22, 1865, letter from Col. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, who was born on Maui, notes a conversation with Kealoha, his "orderly," holding his horse, before the Richmond fighting. "I asked him where he was from," Armstrong wrote. "He said he was from Hawaii! He proved to be a full-blooded kanaka, by the name of Kealoha, who came from the Islands last year." He also noted meeting another man named Kaiwi from Hawaii. "I enjoyed seeing them very much, and we had a good jabber in kanaka," the colonel said.
Marked graves for Civil War veterans who came to Hawaii after the war, both Union and Confederate, can be found at Oahu Cemetery. Some Caucasians who served were born or raised in Hawaii. But Kealoha's gravesite is the only one for a Native Hawaiian with a known location in the state, Napoleon said. Another Native Hawaiian, a sailor named Bush, is believed to be buried on Kauai, "but even the family can't find him," Manning said. Napoleon said many of the Hawaiians in the Union Army and Navy were whalers on ships that were converted to military vessels when the war broke out. Part of the problem in identifying Civil War veterans is pseudonyms were often used during the war, another name was used back in Hawaii, and the records are hard to match. The committee pushing for a VA marker for Kealoha said it will ask for help from Hawaii's congressional delegation. Plan B would be to purchase a private marker. But both Napoleon and Manning would like the government to recognize Kealoha's service. "To us, the government, by law, owes him this recognition," Napoleon said.
[Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | William Cole | 23 Feb 2014 ++]