FORT MITCHELL, Ky. – Honor Guard Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard on Nov. 4 helped honor a Medal of Honor recipient whose grave had gone unmarked and almost forgotten for 148 years.
U.S. Army Sgt. John F. Rowalt of Bellville, Ohio, served during the American Indian War before contracting smallpox and dying at the age of 28 in Cincinnati. He was buried at the nearby Highland Cemetery in Kentucky.
“It’s definitely something special for us,” said Army Sgt. Scott Zelensky, northern Kentucky area coordinator for the Honor Guard. “It’s not something we get to do every day, especially for a Medal of Honor recipient, but at the end of the day, we do the same job as normal. We provide the same honors to that veteran.”
Representing Rowalt’s family was his great-niece, Fran Dankovic of Lexington, Ohio.
“This is awesome,” she said. “I’m so grateful to everyone who helped put this together and to the ones that showed up. I was nervous yesterday thinking about it, but being here today has been great.”
During the ceremony, Capt. Mitchell Hagen with the KYNG Honor Guard presented Dankovic with a folded flag in honor of her late great-uncle.
“I’m at a loss for words,” she said after the ceremony. “This was a lot more than I expected. I’m just so honored by all this.”
Former Kentucky Air National Guardsman Rob Schultz and journalist Carl Hunner with the Richland Source led this “labor of love.”
Their research and hard work paid off, as they were able to provide a headstone for Rowalt.
According to Hunnell, Rowalt was 19 years old when he earned the Medal of Honor. As a private serving in Company L with the 8th United States Cavalry Regiment, his unit got into a fight at Lynx Creek in the Arizona Territory during the Apache Wars Oct. 14, 1869. It was during that battle that Rowalt distinguished himself, earning the Medal of Honor for “gallantry and action with Indians,” according to the citation.
Rowalt was discharged from the Army May 11, 1873, in Fort Union, New Mexico, as a sergeant. He returned to Cincinnati to live with his brother but contracted smallpox, for which there was no cure. He died and was buried at Highland Cemetery. The grave was unmarked for the past 148 years.
“It will never again be unmarked,” said Hunnell, as he spoke to those in attendance. “A hero has his recognition.”