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Barry Schrader
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I writing this column for the following newspaper;

  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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Waterman train wreck victim's grave
found 30 years later by daughter

By Barry Schrader.................................December 26, 2007

Sue Breese of the Joiner History Room in Sycamore had a question for me recently. "Do you remember the Chronicle story you did in December 1970 about a fatal train derailment near Waterman?" I acknowledged I had gone down to Waterman Corners the next day to see the wreckage and wrote the front page bylined article in the December 9 Daily Chronicle, but wondered why she would ask about something that far back in my memory.
Sue then told me the story that had taken some 30 years to bring closure for a daughter named Leona who had lost track of her father when she was only 10 years old and living with her mother in Seattle.
Three men "riding the rails" in a boxcar had been killed in that 1970 pileup when a 49-car freight jumped the track near Routes 23 and 30 a mile east of Waterman just before midnight December 8. Cleanup crews came across the bodies the next day among the jumbled pile of railroad cars and cargo. Since they were not "paying" passengers there were no records of their names.
One of the deceased, William Jackson Hanks Jr., 31, had some ID and the coroner was able to notify his family. He was eventually interred at Harrisburg, Illinois. A second man could not be identified by then-County Coroner Paul Van Natta and so he was buried in the DeKalb County Cemetery, once known as the "pauper's cemetery," next to where the old County Home was located. Now it is adjacent to the parking lot for Michael's crafts store.
The third victim also had no identification but had a tattoo that seemed to tie him to the US Navy. By matching his dental records it was determined he was Denny Lee Greene, 35, with no known address. He had served during the Korean War aboard both the USS Southerland and the USS Dixie. After the war he was divorced and had become estranged from his family in Washington state so they were not aware of his death and did not find out until years later.
Since Leona was only 10 at the time of her father's death she had known little about him. But as an adult she decided to try and trace him by contacting various county coroner's offices. Her search paid off when she got a positive response from DeKalb County. An email from her in 1999 pleading for help in locating his gravesite was turned over to the Joiner History Room and Sue took up the hunt. She and her husband Bob Myers found the grave in the county plot one winter day in early 2000, partly covered by snow. They then contacted the daughter who was very grateful for their help and wanted to travel to DeKalb and visit his final resting place. She had since moved to St. Louis so was within driving distance. But it took her until September 2001 to finally be able to make the trek to DeKalb County where Sue met her and they drove to the cemetery. Sue pointed out the gravesite and stood back as Leona went to the small stone for an emotional farewell to her long lost father. She placed some flowers there and wondered aloud why there was no military flag holder that veterans normally have beside their graves where the US Flag is placed each Memorial Day. It is 2007 now and still the only reminder of his military service is a small 4 x 5 inch flag stuck in the ground nearby.
In a thankful email to Breeses in 2002 the daughter wrote that "finding the grave has now given me inner peace." She has since moved back to Washington to be near family.
There are several other graves and markers in that little cemetery where the tombstones are etched with the word "unknown" showing a date of death only. There will probably not be any more found loved ones as most of the graves are decades old and any close relatives are most likely deceased. But at least this one grave now has fading flowers beside it and someone knows their father is buried there.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115

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