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NEWS | Nov. 6, 2023

Kentucky Honor Guard helps put to rest forgotten Medal of Honor recipient

By Sgt. 1st. Class Benjamin Crane, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office

Honor Guard Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard were on hand to help honor a Medal of Honor recipient whose grave had gone unmarked and almost forgotten for the past 148 years at Highland Cemetery Nov. 4.  

U.S. Army Sgt. John F. Rowalt, of Bellville, Ohio, had served during the American Indian War before contracting smallpox, dying at the age of 28 in Cincinnati and buried at the nearby Kentucky cemetery. 

The Honor Guard Soldiers, who regularly perform services for fallen military members, found this one a little more meaningful due to the background of Rowalt and the fact he was nearly forgotten for so long.  

“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.” 

“One of our sayings is that we provide the second highest honor to those who knew the first, and I think today would be a perfect example of that,” he added.  

Representing Rowalt’s family was his great niece, Fran Dankovic, of Lexington, Ohio. She was glad to be the one to represent her uncle and was humbled with the amount of support shown to her and her family.   

“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, Dankovic was presented a folded flag in honor of her late great uncle in honor of his sacrifice to his nation by Capt. Mitchell Hagen with the KYNG Honor Guard. 

After the ceremony, Dankovic was emotional and taken aback from her experience.  

“I’m at a loss for words,” she said. “This was a lot more than I expected. I’m just so honored by all this.” 

With the help of researchers Karl Jensen and Ray Johnston, with the VA Historical Society, former Kentucky National Guard Airman, Rob Schultz and Carl Hunnell, a journalist with the Richland Source, they were able to make sure that Rowalt's grave would get a headstone with his name on it.  

All of their research and hard work paid off so that he may not be forgotten anymore.  

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 Stated Cavalry Regiment, his unit got into a fight at Lynx Creek in the Arizona Territory during the Apache Wars October 14, 1869. It was during that battle that Rowalt distinguish himself earning the Medal of Honor for “gallantry and action with Indians” according to the citation. 

Rowalt was discharged from the Army on May 11, 1873, in Fort Union, New Mexico as a sergeant. He returned to Cincinnati to live with his brother, where he contracted smallpox, for which there was no cure. He was placed in a pest house, which was a hospital for those with a contagious disease, and he soon died. He was then buried here at Highland Cemetery, just a few miles south of Cincinnati. The grave had been unmarked for the last 148 years. 

“It will never again be unmarked,” said Hunnell, as he spoke to those in attendance. “A hero has his recognition.” 

For more information on the Medal of Honor recipient, click the link from the Richland Source. 

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