Couple's passion for cemetery's history seen in Memorial Day tribute
After reviving the once-neglected Fort Hill Cemetery near Round Lake, McHenry resident Vern Paddock thought it only right to honor those who may not have anyone around to remember them.
And so on Friday, Paddock and his wife, Ruth, reverently placed American flags at the graves of the 45 veterans buried at Fort Hill, established in 1844 and one of the oldest cemeteries in Lake County.
The honorees included three Civil War veterans and a War of 1812 veteran whose stories Paddock has chronicled in his extensive research.
"The families aren't around anymore," he said. "I think that's what Memorial Day is all about with the veterans - they shouldn't be forgotten."
Paddock's great-great-great-grandmother and other relatives are buried here. Since he retired five years ago, he has spent countless hours removing dense shrubbery and debris, uncovering and restoring hidden gravestones and researching the occupants of Fort Hill.
"I'm sure a lot of the relatives (of veterans buried at Fort Hill) are probably third or fourth generation and aren't around here," he added.
Ruth Paddock grew up near Fort McHenry in Baltimore, best known for a successful defense of the harbor from a British attack during the War of 1812. It's also the site where an enormous American flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that later was set to music and became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."
She describes herself as very patriotic and teared up Friday when asked by a visitor what she thought of the couple's flag handiwork.
"It's very inspirational," she said. "It's nice these veterans have not been forgotten."
Since early spring, the Paddocks have spent several days a week cleaning gravestones.
"We decided about three months ago it would be nice to put some flags out to remember the vets," Vern Paddock said.
Most of the flags are small, but there are larger ones for two veterans killed in action, and 1863 versions for three Civil War veterans, as well as a Star-Spangled Banner flag for the War of 1812 veteran.
Lt. Arthur Whitney, a farmer, was 22 when he died in action March 13, 1863, in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, and Pfc. Clarence Hagen Jr. had just turned 19 when he was killed June 17, 1944, at Saipan in the northern Mariana Islands. Their flags are 3-foot by 5-foot and mounted on 10-foot poles.
"For the two veterans killed in action, I thought it would be nice to have something big," Paddock said.
As his pastime turned to passion, Paddock has compiled 400 genealogies, which are listed on his Fort Hill Cemetery website https://www.forthillcemetery.org/.
And, the work and discoveries continue. Just last week, Paddock happened upon a mention for Levi Marble.
"He didn't fight. He was a teamster during the War of 1812," he said. "He was probably hauling supplies."
Paddock said he spent about $800 for the flags and poles.
"I just wanted to do that," he said without further explanation. "Today, looking at these flags - wow, I'm glad I did it."