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Remembering a hero
S.J. WOMAN LEADING EFFORT TO RECOGNIZE MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT
By Lisa Fernandez
The plan is for it to be a simple, fitting Memorial Day service for an all-but-forgotten war hero.
No one who will pay his or her respects today at a San Jose cemetery knows much about Marine Sgt. Edward Alexander Walker. What's left of his military record is sparse: He was born in Scotland in 1864, and he died in San Jose in 1946 at the age of 82. But those who plan to attend the service are keenly aware that Walker won the highest wartime decoration of all -- the congressional Medal of Honor -- for his bravery in China 105 years ago fighting in the Boxer Rebellion.
Some military historians believe that Walker is the only Medal of Honor recipient buried in San Jose. But his grave site is bare, with no mention of his remarkable honor. Until it was brought to their attention recently, the managers of Oak Hill Memorial Park weren't even aware he was there.
The small group of people who organized Walker's memorial want to change that.
``We want to find his family and we need to raise some money to put an insignia on his grave,'' said Debbie Peevyhouse, 51, of San Jose. Her goal is to get the word out to find Walker's next of kin, whose permission is needed to add a Navy insignia and Medal of Honor notation to his headstone.
Peevyhouse has no connection to Walker other than her hobbies as an amateur genealogist and a self-described ``taphophile,'' someone who catalogs tombstones. Many people in her family, including her husband, have served in the military, so she's especially interested in locating graves of veterans.
Peevyhouse works as a Spanish translator, an occupation she switched to after being laid off as a buyer for Hewlett-Packard. Her interest in Walker's grave -- and his legacy -- began earlier this month when, through an Internet network of military historians, Peevyhouse connected with some other enthusiasts interested in war heroes' graves. They wanted information about Walker's final resting place, which they believed to be Oak Hill Memorial Park.
Intrigued by the request, Peevyhouse drove to the cemetery, where employees had no record of Walker being buried there.
Peevyhouse, who describes herself as a ``pit bull'' when it comes to fighting for a cause, didn't give up. She and a groundskeeper, Salvador Romo, walked the cemetery grounds and finally discovered Walker's remains high in the San Jose hills, in a mausoleum where he was buried nearly 60 years ago next to his wife, Mary Owens Walker.
To their dismay, they found no marker indicating that he is among the one-tenth of 1 percent of veterans who've been awarded the nation's highest military honor.
Walker's award was for his service during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900-01 -- a war that many Americans consider a shameful part of their country's history.
At the turn of the last century, Western powers -- including Great Britain, Italy, Germany, France and Russia -- essentially had carved China into trade zones that enriched them but exploited the Chinese.
In response, a group of Chinese peasants, nicknamed the ``Boxers'' because of their proficiency in martial arts, rose up and began killing Westerners, hoping to drive them out of China.
When the Boxers surrounded the Western diplomatic compound in the capital and threatened to kill everyone inside, several nations -- including the United States, which wanted to maintain China as a lucrative trade area -- sent in troops to stop the rebellion and preserve the lopsided trade status quo.
The fighting was especially fierce, according to Walker's medal citation, and he and four other Marines were credited with erecting protective barricades in the thick of combat.
The congressional Medal of Honor is considered the pinnacle of all wartime achievements. Of the 30 million who have served since the Civil War, only 3,460 have been granted the award, which is given for acts of heroism. Of that number, 123 are alive -- 16 of them in California, according to Doug Sterner, 55, a Vietnam veteran who has made it his life's work to track down military war heroes and publicize them on his Web site, www.homeofheroes.com.
``This is fitting with what's going on in the rest of the nation,'' Sterner said from his home in Pueblo, Colo. He has been corresponding with Peevyhouse by e-mail about Walker's case. ``There's been a real effort across the country to get Medal of Honor sites properly marked.''
Meanwhile, Mercury News reporting unearthed a clue Friday that might lead to Walker descendants.
A letter dated Nov. 28, 1949, from Walker's niece, Esther M. Dixon, to a lieutenant in the Marines reveals that Walker's medal somehow disappeared after his death in a car crash. Dixon writes that her uncle promised to give the medal to her brother, Herbert, who lived in Wisconsin. She believed that the medal may have been lost when Walker's clothes were boxed up and sent to World War II refugees in Europe. She asked that the Marines help her secure a replacement.
There is no record that the Marines followed through on Dixon's request, according to Victoria Leslie of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., who provided a copy of the letter to the Mercury News.
Armed with this new information, Peevyhouse sent out a bulletin on her favorite Web site dedicated to helping locate graves, hoping someone would know of Walker's family and get back to her.
``This isn't just about Edward Alexander Walker,'' Peevyhouse said. ``It's about all the military people who haven't been recognized.''
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
Anyone with information about Edward Alexander Walker's descendants is asked to e-mail Debbie Peevyhouse at blackrose@ inbox.com.
May 31, 2001
San Jose Ceremony for Hero of 1900
By Lisa Fernandez
The ceremony took less than 15 minutes, and only nine people came to pay their respects.
But the Memorial Day morning service at San Jose's Oak Hill Funeral Home was probably more than the late Marine Sgt. Edward A. Walker had received since his death almost 60 years ago.
``Sgt. Walker, we remember your distinguished and valorous service to our country,'' said Marine 1st Sgt. Joe Morales of San Jose, who was asked to officiate at the unusual ceremony.
Then, turning to the small audience congregated around Walker's indistinguishable stone crypt, freshly decorated with red and white carnations and an American flag, Morales said: ``Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today for one of our faded heroes, although never forgotten. We're bringing him back on Memorial Day.''
The tiny bit of pomp and circumstance was meant to somehow reach out to whomever might be Walker's next of kin and help raise money to put a U.S. Navy insignia on his tombstone.
Walker's blood relatives -- or proof that there are no more living family members -- are needed in order to give the cemetery permission to hang a permanent seal by his grave. At this point, all that's known about Walker's family is that his wife, Mary, was buried next to him. And from death records and a family letter dated 1949, it appears his niece Esther Dixon died in Wisconsin and a nephew, Herbert, also likely has passed away.
The circle of mourners who attended the service hope the official marker they want to affix by his crypt would remind passersby that Walker won the highest wartime accolade of all -- the Medal of Honor -- 105 years ago while stationed in China.
Walker, who fought during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, was credited for his bravery in beating back militant Chinese peasants angry with the Western powers for carving their homeland into lopsided trade zones that exploited the Chinese. The peasants, nicknamed the ``Boxers'' for their proficiency in the martial arts, began killing Westerners, hoping to drive them out of their country. Walker erected barricades, protecting the city of Peking from the Boxers, according to his citation.
Born in Scotland, Walker died in San Jose in 1946 at age 82.
The impetus behind Monday's service was Debbie Peevyhouse, 51, of San Jose. A network of Internet military historians whose hobby is locating the graves of fallen war heroes had recently contacted Peevyhouse, who volunteers for www.finda grave.com. They asked her to photograph Walker's tombstone.
Peevyhouse and a groundskeeper hunted down Walker's crypt earlier this month. Peevyhouse, an amateur genealogist who has many relatives who served in the military, was upset that Walker's grave was unmarked. So she called friends and military contacts to whip up a memorial service. One of those guests was Louise Ogden, 84, of San Jose, the widow of 1st Lt. Carlos Carnes Ogden Sr., who won a Medal of Honor during World War II. She also invited three San Jose guests she had coincidentally bumped into at Oak Hill cemetery the day before the service. Peevyhouse was visiting the grave site of a cousin who served in Vietnam, and also was adorning two unmarked veterans graves' with American flags.
``We're very patriotic,'' said Richard Bostwick, 62, a Vietnam veteran who came with his wife, Sook, 62, and sister, Cheryl, 60. ``We were cleaning up veterans' graves too, washing them down, when we bumped into Debbie and she invited us to this today. When we heard the story, we all said, `We have to be there to honor this man.' I think it's a shame just to have his name there. This is a wrong that needs to be righted.''
Contact Lisa Fernandez at lfernandez@mercurynews. com or (510) 790-7313.
© 2005, by San Jose Mercury News
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