WESTMINSTER, Md. — Largely forgotten for over a century now, Diane Boettcher has helped identify nine Black soldiers, including John Wesley Cole, whose grave is once again marked by headstone here at Ellsworth Cemetery just outside of Westminster.
“He enlisted in the 4th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry just following the Battle of Gettysburg. He served a little over two years, and he was wounded four times,” said Boettcher.
Before work could begin identifying graves, the Knights of Columbus stepped in a few years ago to clean up what had become a forgotten cemetery as a community service project.
“We made great strides in making it more than four or five guys that nobody knows,” said Brad Criddle of the St. Bartholomew Knights of Columbus.
Rallying other volunteers to their cause, work began identifying unmarked graves, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided the headstones for seven Civil War and two World War I veterans where there had been none in decades.
Over the last month, volunteers have identified seven additional unmarked graves, but there is still much work to be done.”
“You see these crosses?” asked Criddle as he pointed out makeshift, while crosses made out of rebar dotting the cemetery, “After the ground-penetrating radar, everywhere you see a cross, but no stone, that’s an unmarked grave.”
175 of them remain, each with a story just waiting to be told, and volunteers say census records and obituaries may not be enough.
They want descendants of the forgotten to come forward so they, too, can be remembered.
“It brings a tear to my eye to know that people who had been forgotten, people who had been misremembered or not remembered at all are now remembered and honored with the headstones from the VA,” said Boettcher.
A special ceremony to unveil the new headstones will be held tomorrow at 11:00am at Ellsworth Cemetery at 847 Leidy Road on the outskirts of Westminster.