Finally, Dignity for a Chicago War Hero
Intro: Earlier this fall I was contacted by my friend Michael Feeney (MBE) of Castlebar, Co. Mayo Ireland. Michael and I have been friends since we met in 2006 at his home in Milebush. It was then that he asked me to help research military men and women who, have served in the armed conflicts of the United States and most of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Many of these soldiers gave their life for a country that was not yet even theirs. Thus began my foray into military research, a topic I knew nothing of but would soon teach myself. I have been a genealogist since 1999 so I eagerly took on this task for my friend in Mayo. The reason you ask… quite simple, Michael was the brain child and driving force behind the construction of the Mayo Peace Park and its “Garden of Remembrance”. A memorial in Castlebar to honor all that served in foreign wars.
SO when contacted again I jumped at the chance to look into another lost soldier. Michael’s wife Mary, in an effort to help locate soldiers spends many hours searching the internet for info on those from Mayo. And find another she did, Martin J. Cunningham who, sadly died of his wounds on July 22, 1918. Martin was born on September 28, 1888 and baptized two days later on the 30th. He was the son of Martin and Mary nee Forkan Cunningham of Treenlaur in the townland of Shanvally, 2 miles from Kiltimaugh, in Co. Mayo.
In the early part of the 20th century it is believed he came to New York, and then on to Chicago to live with his sister Mrs. Margaret (George) Brady on S. May St. in Chicago. In abt. 1916 he joined the US Army and when we entered the war in April of 1917 Martin’s destiny was sealed, he was to be sent overseas. Martin served proudly with Co. “A” of the 28th Infantry as a corporal.
Sometime on or about the 22nd of July Martin was wounded and later died of his wounds (DOW), and was buried in France. It was reported in the Chicago Daily Tribune and was accompanied by a photo of Martin and eight other listed as dying in France. After the war, his body was exhumed and returned to Chicago at the request of his father and sister. He was laid to rest in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Chicago on July 23rd 1921, three years and one day after he died.
Moving ahead to 2017, after getting the call, doing my research and reading his burial file that I got from St. Louis (NPRC) it was then that I found the final resting place for Martin. I called the cemetery and they were very helpful, telling me the “NO” Martin did not have a marker on his grave. I knew that getting a marker was an easy fix, but I was also told of the $275 setting fee for flat granite markers. It was then that I got the idea of writing to the owner of the cemetery, the Archdiocese of Chicago, (Cardinal Cupich) asking for a fee waiver on compassionate grounds. The letter was answered several weeks later from the Director of Catholic Cemeteries with a resounding “NO”. After the initial anger and shock wore off I remembered a friend that worked for Catholic Charities of Chicago. The call was made and she too was upset with the lack of compassion displayed by the Archdiocese. She readily agreed to help and her organization will be covering the cost of the setting for the VA marker when it arrives in the spring.
A call to the Mayo Association of Chicago was never returned when I left a message.
Another idea that came to me, was to hold a simple grave dedication ceremony after the marker is set, most likely on July 22, 2018 the 100th anniversary of Martin’s death. I contacted Rich Leschman of Post #450 of the local VFW in Chicago and he agreed to help in any way that they could to give Martin the dignity he was denied in 1921. For those interested, more details about the upcoming ceremony will be listed as they become finalized and the day grows closer.
Dixon, IL 61021
- In 2009 one of the markers I arranged to have sent to Ireland was for James Forkan, a cousin of Martin’s. My wife and I had the good fortune to be able to attend his ceremony and meet the family.
- Martin’s sister and brother in law are buried next to him, also in un-marked graves…..anyone feeling generous?