HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Local historians and distinguished guests from veterans' organizations gathered at Oahu Cemetery on Saturday for a special dedication to a Hawaiian soldier whom none of them had ever met.
"It has been my privilege to watch Kealoha move from the footnotes of history to the front pages of today,” said Eric Mueller, Adjutant General, Hawaii Civil War Round Table.
Private J.R. Kealoha, a Native Hawaiian soldier who fought in America's Civil War, died in 1877 and is buried at the historic Oahu Cemetery. But for the last 137 years, most people may not have known it.
It was in 2011 when Anita Manning came across Kealoha's name at the Hawaii State Archives. A card file told her the union soldier fought in the Civil War and where he was buried. Eager to find out more, she went to Oahu Cemetery only to be disappointed.
"There was no headstone! And I was struck immediately that this man who had put himself in harm's way for my future had been forgotten," said Manning, Hawaii Sons of the Civil War committee.
Manning along with other historians submitted an application to the Veterans Administration to get a headstone for Kealoha but was denied because of they couldn't find any living next of kin.
After years of appeals, a headstone was donated.
"Unlike many Hawaiians who fought in the Civil War, we know Kealoha's real name. We know his Hawaiian name because fortuitously on January 22, 1865, he ran into Colonel Samuel Chapman Armstrong," Hawaii Civil War Round Table President Justin Vance said.
Armstrong was also from Hawaii and he later became a General. He wrote about his encounter with Kealoha on the battlefield and sent the letter back to Hawaii.
“Yesterday, as my orderly was holding my horse, I asked him where he was from. He said he was from Hawaii! He proved to be a full-blood kanaka, by the name of Kealoha, who came from the Islands last year. There is also another, by the name of Kaiwi, who lived near Judge Smith's, who left the Islands last July. I enjoyed seeing them very much and we had a good jabber in kanaka. Kealoha is a private in the 41st Regiment US Colored Troops, and Kaiwi is a Private in the 28th U.S.C.T., in the pioneer corps. Both are good men and seemed glad to have seen me.”
Kealoha is just one of 119 identified sons of Hawaii who fought in the Civil War. Little are known about them because most Hawaiians served under anglicized names because they were easier to pronounce.
The hope is that the gravestone will not only serve as tribute to Kealoha, but to the other sons of Hawaii who fought in America's Civil War and are forgotten.
Kealoha and his story will be included in a forthcoming publication by the U.S. government that documents the service of Civil War soldiers and sailors.