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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unsung Hero - Jerry Berry

Welcome to the first of a series on neglected, forgotten
champions of America.  This unsung hero served on the side
of the Union during the Civil War,  and his name was Jerry Berry.

In a small rural cemetery, a very old graveyard dating to the early 1800's, there is a nondescript marker noting the final resting place of a United States Army veteran named Jerry Berry.

Not much is known about this man, just enough detail to drive a genealogist crazy with curiosity.  I will relate what little information is available.

'Ole Jerry Berry,' as he was known, was born on the 9th of September 1844 and died one day shy of his 95th birthday,  on 8 September 1939.   During his long and colorful life, Mr. Berry enlisted in the United States Army on the side of the Union and served as a bugler with Company 'E' of the 56th Infantry.   His unit saw quite a bit of action during 1864,  including Indian Bay on 13 April,  Muffleton Lodge on 29 June,  Wallace Ferry and  Big Creek on 26 July and various operations throughout Arkansas.

Somewhere along the line, Mr. Berry must have been wounded because he
mustered out as a private with a goodly pension that allowed him to return to civilian life as an independent man.

Mr. Berry settled in a tiny rural community on the banks of the Missouri River,  not far from a spot where Lewis & Clark camped on their historic journey.   In time, he married a girl named Octavia and produced one daughter they named Ollie.

Mr. Berry, his wife and daughter are buried close together on the edge of a rocky bluff overlooking the Missouri River.  Their markers rest, shaded by old oak and elm,  at the edge of peaceful meadow.  Curiously,  the area is devoid of monuments, ornate markers, benches or even flowers although many dozens of unmarked graves can be identified by depressions in the soft clay-based soil. At times, the  markers are overgrown with vegetation,  at least until groundskeepers on tractors mow over the top of them.  The minimum-wage workers couldn't care less about sharp steel blades slicing through soft, half-buried limestone.

This is not a Potters Field, set aside for use by indigent residents of the county, so why are the graves hidden and neglected?

Well, if you are a history buff, you know that the 56th Infantry was part of the United States Colored Troops.  Mr. Jerry Berry, veteran of the Civil War, was remanded to this least desirable and oft neglected tract simply because he was black.

There must be many hundreds of neglected burials of American veterans.  Such indifference is an insult to all veterans, past and present.  I'm open for suggestions on the best way to remedy this shameful situation.  Any ideas?

The truth is incontrovertible.
Panic may resent it,
Ignorance may deride it,
Malice may distort it,
But there it is.
--Winston Churchill



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