Researcher’s zeal uncovers fascinating history

Neal Hanley honors the veterans of Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lansing by telling their stories. He is pictured here at the graveside of one of the three Medal of Honor recipients buried there, Patrick Thomas Leonard, who fought in the Indian Wars. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven

LANSING — One man’s commitment to honoring the veterans buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery here has surfaced a wealth of military history.

And in the process, it has encouraged a spirit of collaboration between Catholic cemeteries of northeast Kansas in the way they honor those who have served.

The story begins on multiple fronts. As members of Lansing’s Knights of Columbus Council 10834 brainstormed about community projects, they considered ways to pay respect to deceased brother Knights. Because most of the members are active duty or retired military, they also discussed honoring veterans.

“The challenge was that we did not know who or how many veterans are buried at Mount Calvary,” said Neal Hanley, a retired Marine officer and member of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lansing and the Knights of Columbus.

That task fell to Hanley, who accepted the challenge with a researcher’s zeal. He first explored the Find-A-Grave website and scanned all names (12,000) associated with Mount Calvary. He then created a spreadsheet of over 350 names of identified veterans.

Next, Hanley walked the grounds of the cemetery to find more names.

In the meantime, on Aug. 1, 2016, Catholic Cemeteries assumed responsibility for management and operations of Mount Calvary.

Hanley found willing and helpful partners in their staff, including Charlie Owens, family service counselor; Sharon Vallejo, office manager; and Linda Lindsey, data entry specialist.

They helped Neal pinpoint specific grave locations, and the number of identified veterans grew to 400.

The collaboration culminated on Nov. 10 — the day before Veterans Day — when Hanley and brother Knight John Twohig led a group of more than 40, representing different organizations and the parish, to the cemetery.

The group met at the cemetery office for an invocation and blessing offered by retired Army Col. Sam Sanford, chaplain at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth.

Hanley then provided instructions to the group and dispatched them with maps marked with sites of veterans’ graves. Catholic Cemeteries provided 500 flags, which the volunteers placed at the designated burial sites. (The flags were also available in the cemetery office for family members from the community who wished to recognize their loved ones.)

It took the group a little over two hours to identify the veterans’ graves and to place 400 flags.

“I’d like to think we honored our veterans by keeping alive the memories of their sacrifices and achievements,” said Hanley of the effort. Owens said he expects that there are additional graves still to be discovered and that the memorial observance will continue and expand.

But the story of Hanley’s research does not end there.

“The more I researched, the more intrigued I became with the history behind our Leavenworth/Lansing veterans,” he said.

Researching both online and at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and the Leavenworth Public Library, Hanley learned that veterans buried at Mount Calvary span centuries of American history.

Among those buried there are veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies of the Civil War; a Little Big Horn survivor; and veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Indian Wars (including three Medal of Honor recipients), World War I and II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars.

There are veterans buried at Mount Calvary who served in the U.S. Army Tank Corps in World War I. Others fought at the Battle of the Bulge, landed at Normandy Beach and survived the Bataan Death March in World War II.

Hanley said Mount Calvary is the final resting place for several veterans who served in three wars and numerous fathers and sons, each a veteran. All branches of the military are represented.

Seeking yet another way to recognize those who have served, Hanley submitted articles and photos based on his research to the Leavenworth Times. That led to an request by the newspaper editor for weekly submissions.

Sixty articles later, Hanley continues to receive positive feedback and encouragement to write more and remains enthusiastic about honoring veterans.

“This is only scratching the surface of those we have yet to rediscover and honor,” he said.

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