GREENSBURG – Residents of Decatur County have not been negligent about honoring the men and women who served in the wars before and after the state was named Indiana.
The county itself is named for naval hero of the War of 1812 Stephen Decatur, who was killed in a dispute in March 1820. The next year, in late December 1821, the county would be named for Decatur.
To see how Decatur County residents honor their veterans you only have to look at the All Wars Memorial on the south side of the Courthouse Square. Then, browse through all the books and other material that has been written about our veterans and citizens who helped a war effort. And look in the cemeteries at the headstones of our veterans that have been, as far as possible, kept clean and readable – often with the help of Decatur County Historian Russell Wilhoit and those who help him.
American Legion Post 129 in Greensburg supports a building where veterans are welcomed.
Many veterans who served in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) came to Decatur County as it was opening up for settlement. The Lone Tree Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution made a list of those veterans.
In 1975, Smith Monument Works, as their project for the Bicentennial, ran a series of ads in the Greensburg Daily News showing the headstones for 24 of the veterans of that war that are buried here.
Van and Vivian Batterton, co-chairmen of the Decatur County Bicentennial Committee, published the series in a booklet, saying that the committee was proud to publish them because Revolutionary War veterans “are a very important part of our county’s history.” The booklets were given to those interested.
The Daughters of the American Revolution was organized in 1890 in Washington, D.C. The Lane Tree Chapter was organized in Greensburg in 1907. DAR members have donated many times to other causes, the county and organizations.
Records show that 4,435 men lost their lives fighting for the new country and 6,188 were wounded.
War of 1812
Decatur County Historian Russell Wilhoit said, “There are 52 known War of 1812 veterans buried in this county, but I know of another 10 or so who are buried in nearby counties … that lived at one time in Decatur County, so I would say possibly around 80 at the most.” But the 52 are known for sure in the grave registration book he is doing on the Civil War, Mexican War, War of 1812 and Revolutionary War veterans buried in this county.
In fact, the founder of Greensburg, Thomas Hendricks, was a Colonel in the War of 1812. Hendricks came with other surveyors to survey the newly opened land. Hendricks also purchased four 80-acre tracts soon after coming to the new land. He built the first cabin in what would become Greensburg and donated 100 acres of land for the town of Greensburg which was named for his wife Elizabeth Trimble’s native town in Pennsylvania.
In 1922, the Lone Tree Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution had a memorial for Hendricks to be placed at the east entrance to the Decatur County Courthouse. He is buried at South Park Cemetery west of the entrance.
Records show that 2,260 men were killed during the War of 1812 and 4,505 were wounded.
As far as is known, two Decatur County men were killed fighting in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Lt. William Sanders (Saunders) was in the Mounted Infantry of Kentucky when he was killed April 18, 1847, during the Battle of Cerro Gordo, Mexico about 60 miles northwest of Veracruz, Mexico.
His parents, James and Cynthia Hall Sanders, originally lived in Nicolas County, Kentucky but moved to Decatur County.
Major James M. Talbott was in the Indiana Infantry U.S. Army, 16th Regiment, U.S. Regulars Decatur County Volunteers. He was killed June 15, 1848 while in service in Mexico.
Records show that there were 13,283 soldiers who died during that war and 4,152 wounded. There is no information on the location of burial for the two men.
There were 194 men from Decatur County known to have died fighting or by disease during the Civil War. In addition, when John Hunt Morgan was rumored to be riding into the county residents of all ages and from the whole county converged on the Courthouse Square to protect the county seat from Morgan’s men.
Some names stand out for unusual service to the country such as Reuben Smalley, who earned the Medal of Honor at the battle of Vicksburg; and Elizabeth Finneran, who, according to the inscription on the Finneran memorial, fought alongside her husband John for a time during the Civil War (until she was discovered).
Many men died during the time they were in various prisons such as Andersonville in Georgia. Five men froze to death on Island # 10 south of New Madrid, Missouri. Many died of various diseases.
After the Civil War, an organization named The Grand Army of the Republic, similar to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was formed. In Decatur County, it was named “Pap” Thomas Post in July 1879. There were Posts in Decatur County: Newpoint, St. Paul, Westport, Clarksburg, and Sardinia.
A Women’s Relief Corps Auxiliary was formed in 1893, and in 1922 a monument was placed on the Courthouse Square which states: “IN HONOR OF THE CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS OF DECATUR COUNTY. This monument cannot disclose nor can the skill of mortal make a record of the countless woes they suffered for their country’s sake.”
In 1897, the government donated a cannon to the local GAR post. It was shipped from Maine and the Post only had to pay the $31 for freight. It was placed in front of the Soldiers Circle at South Park Cemetery. A Memorial Day service is always held at South Park Cemetery.
On Memorial Day, the old soldiers of the Civil War used to march to the cemetery for the program, but as the soldiers became too old and unable to march the service was held on the Courthouse Square. Other townships also have Memorial Day services.
Records show that 360,000 men died and 275,175 were wounded during the Civil War
Philippine Insurrection – Spanish-American War
Three Decatur County men died during the Spanish American War/Philippine Insurrection. The U.S. Battleship Maine exploded in a Cuban harbor.
There were 261 fatalities when the USS Maine exploded: two officers and 251 sailors and marines either killed by the explosion or drowned.
Three Decatur County men died during this period. George Dilts was killed June 19, 1899 in action in the Philippine Islands. His brother, Louis Dilts, died while on his way back home from the Philippine Islands. John W. Shaw was killed May 14, 1900 in action in the Philippine Islands and was buried in the Wesley Cemetery in Jackson Township in Decatur County. A few years ago, the statue of Shaw his parents had erected on his grave was damaged and a group of citizens had it restored.
Records show that 3,289 service men died during this conflict between the years 1898 through 1902 (not including those who died when the USS Main exploded).
Although a war had not been declared on China, a country that simply wanted the foreigners out, one Decatur County man died during that time.
W. Edward Metzler, Company L, 14th Infantry was killed in action at Yang Taun, China on Aug. 6, 1900. Although war had not been declared, a protocol document was signed to end the “Boxer Rebellion” September 1901.
Total American deaths in Boxer Rebellion not found.
World War I
Thirty-three men from Decatur County died in service in the “War to End all Wars.” Many of them died from the flu epidemic of 1918.
James E. Mendenhall was mayor at the time and issued a proclamation for a patriotic meeting to be held on April 6, 1917 at the K. of P. Opera House. He said at the meeting, “The die is cast. We have crossed the Rubicon. The nation is at war.”
In 1922, citizens of Decatur County supported a book to be written about World War I and what people in the county did for the war, including the men who served and those who kept the home fires burning.
Winona Crisley Deiwert (Mrs. George) was named the County War Historian and she compiled much of the material in the book titled, “History of Decatur County’s Part in the World War 1914 – 1918.” It is a hard cover book with 269 pages. It was printed and published by order of the County Board of Commissioners of Decatur County, Indiana at their regular board meeting on April 3, 1922. The commissioners were George Hamilton, Charles P. Johnson and George Walker.
Four men were chosen to serve on a committee concerned with all things involving the war. At least three members from each of the nine townships were appointed to serve on the Township Council of Defense.
Adams Township: Charles McKee, Lewis Lines, Miss Ethel Shelhorn.
Clinton Township: Horace McDonald, E. G. Amos, Elmer Sefton, Mrs. Ed. Meek.
Clay Township: Caleb Wright, Earl Gartin, Miss Lula Smiley.
Fugit Township: Thomas Hamilton, William Kincaid, Miss Nell Fee, later Miss Marjorie Beall.
Jackson Township: Edward Fraley, Edward Thurston, Mrs. Stuben Pleake.
Marion Township: Benjamin Feldman, Charles Stevenson, Mrs. George Luken.
Salt Creek Township: John A. Meyer, C. P. Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Harley F. McKee.
Sand Creek Township: Mrs. J.A. Welch, Urso McCorkle, Claude Tyner.
Washington Township: Barton McLaughlin, Pleasant L. Doles, Mrs. William McCoy.
Just about everything connected to service during the war was recorded in that book. The end of it has poems that were composed by Decatur County people.
One poem written by 11-year old Dorothy Deem (later Dorothy Townsend) started like this:
Down with the Kaiser,
We’re going to win,
Down with the Kaiser,
and all his kin.
Down with the Kaiser,
He’s assaulted out Flag.
Why not treat him likewise,
And make his flag a rag.
Total American deaths in service during WW I was: 116,708 Dead. And 204,002 were wounded.
World War II
Eighty-one Decatur county men died during World War II. Books have been written about some of them and others have been honored in other ways. Shriver Field at Greensburg Community High School is named for two brothers who died during WWII.
A hard cover book titled “Service Record World War I and II, Decatur County, Indiana” was published. It featured 160 pages listing names of those who served in World War I and World War II and pictures of many veterans.
The Walk of Honor was established on the Courthouse Square by Bill Ford, a veteran of WWII and VFW Historian, and members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5584 and the Auxiliary. On bricks along the square were names of everyone who died from the Mexican War through the Vietnam War. Many of the names were given to Ford by Sarah Newman, who kept a record of all veterans who died in the service. Sarah Newman was born in 1890 and died in 1989.The Walk of Honor was dedicated September 1998.
A soft cover book compiled by Ford and VFW Post 5584 titled “Lest We Forget” lists all the names and other known information of those who lost their lives during WWII.
The Greensburg/Decatur County Library has shelves full of books about the men who fought in wars, especially WW II and the battles in which they fought.
American Casualties: 407,316 dead, 670,846 wounded
Eleven men from Decatur County died in service during the Korean War from June 27, 1950, when President Truman ordered U.S. Forces to aid South Korea that had been invaded by Communist North Korea on June 25, to July 27, 1953 when the Armistice was signed at Panmunjom, Korea that ended that war.
Charles Robert Low from Westport was killed July 14, 1950, the first man to die. Four more Decatur County men were killed before that year ended. The names of the 11 men killed during the Korean War are listed, along with information about each, in “Lest We Forget.”
American Casualties: 33,651 Dead, 103,284 Wounded
Seventeen Decatur County men died while in service during the Vietnam War. A declaration of the war was never made, so for purposes of this history the local VFW Post and Bill Ford fixed the starting date of the war as 1959 and ending at April 30, 1975. As far as anyone can remember, there were no protests about the war in Decatur County and those who made it home did not have to worry that crowds would harass them.
American Casualties: 58,168 dead, 303,635 wounded
Desert Storm/Desert Shield
A short story in the Greensburg Daily News Dec, 21, 1990 informed readers that a book had been printed that showed service men and women that they are supported back home.
Bill Ford, historian for the Greensburg Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5584, had put together a 60-page book to send to local servicemen and women in the Middle East.
Ford said he wanted the local servicemen and women to know that people back home are supporting them. The soft cover book carried stories about local servicemen and women who were in Desert Shield.
Another book, with 185 pages, contained every story written about what was happening in the Middle East and containing pictures of every man and woman in the service at the time.
A support group, founded by Karen Hartwell, conducted ceremonies on the Courthouse Square which included speakers, music and prayer. The group sent packages to every county man or woman deployed in the Persian Gulf.
Time didn’t allow me to fully research the Gulf War and our military action in Afghanistan. I was able to determine there were 382 U.S. members of the military killed and 467 wounded in the Gulf War, and that according to the most recent data I could find about the ongoing military action in Afghanistan there have been 2,403 deaths.