BY KIM LUTTRELL
DANVILLE — Retired Air Force Colonel the Rev. John Flattery summed up Saturday’s ceremony to honor Medal of Honor recipient Seaman Martin McHugh, "We are here to right the slight and overcome the neglect that has come to Seaman Martin McHugh.”
A crowd of nearly 300 people attended the ceremony Saturday afternoon at Holy Family Catholic Church.
Master of Ceremonies and Co-chairman of the Medal of Honor Ceremony Committee Larry Weatherford told the assembled crowd that McHugh has laid in an unmarked grave for 117 years.
"We are here to change that," Weatherford said.
During the ceremony, Weatherford, who helped in the research of McHugh’s background, said that he and other committee members learned so much about McHugh that it feels like a family connection.
The discovery of McHugh’s burial spot started with a simple e-mail from Ray Johnston, a researcher with the Medal of Honor Historical Society, to Machelle Long seeking any information on McHugh. Long works in the vital records department of the Vermilion County Clerk’s office.
Johnston credits Long with much of the research that went into establishing McHugh’s history and final resting place. Johnston said he has a list of 480 Medal of Honor recipients whose burial sites he is trying to locate.
"It is a very slow and painstaking process," Johnston said. "We must have very clear verification of the identity and where they are buried in order for the Veteran’s Affairs to have a headstone made."
Johnston said he gets to attend two or three of these dedication ceremonies a year and he was absolutely shocked by the ceremony in Danville.
"I am proud and humble of what you have done here today," Johnston said.
The ceremony at Holy Family was complete with the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Band from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, the church choir and the Knights of Columbus honor guard.
After the serene ceremony at the church, a procession made its way to Resurrection Cemetery by way of McHugh’s former home on Bryan Street.
At the cemetery, various local, county and state officials read proclamations honoring McHugh.
Ralph Zoccolillo, chairman of the Indiana Blue Star Salute, told the crowd, "The phrase — We shall never forget — is epitomized in Danville for the way you have gone out of your way to honor Seaman McHugh."
The ceremony at the cemetery was complete with a U.S. Navy Honor Guard and a ceremonial 21-gun salute. A beautiful headstone along with a plaque now marks the burial site of Seaman McHugh and his wife Catherine.
McHugh, who was an Irish immigrant, made his way to Danville after he, his mother and sister arrived in Boston from Ireland.
When the Civil War broke out, McHugh enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Cincinnati. He was a seaman on the gunboat U.S.S. Cincinnati during the Siege of Vicksburg.
On May 27, 1863, McHugh’s ship received heavy cannon fire from the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg, Miss. Sustaining heavy damage and beginning to sink, the U.S.S. Cincinnati crew was forced to abandon ship and McHugh and three other seaman assisted the remaining crew and officers in reaching shore. Forty sailors aboard the U.S.S. Cincinnati perished.
On July 10, 1863, McHugh received the Medal of Honor, which is the highest military award given to members of the military. It is awarded by the president of the United States government.
McHugh returned to Danville after the war and worked in area coal mines for 35 years. He eventually married and had four daughters — living a quiet life at 502 Bryan St.
In June 1903, he entered the National Soldiers and Sailors Home due to what is believed to have been a stroke. He died there on Feb. 24, 1905.
With the discovery of the grave of Seaman Martin McHugh, there are 11 Medal of Honor recipients buried in Vermilion County.