Paris Richey lived the last 40 years of his life in St. Joseph. He belonged to the Custer Post of a fraternal organization called the Grand Army of the Republic.
His eligibility for this group came from his service in the Civil War, a private in the 4th Iowa Cavalry.
Despite the three years of sacrifice for the Union cause, his grave in Mt. Auburn Cemetery has since 1919 been a simple brick that notes his name and date of death.
A relative, along with others in St. Joseph, want to do something about that.
Debbie Cline of St. Joseph, the great-granddaughter of Richey, had known little about the cavalryman before hearing about him from her uncle and aunt, Thomas and Pat Richey.
The search for his grave offered a surprise.
“There was supposed to be some kind of marker there,” she said. “It turned out to be a brick, but it had been covered over by soil and grass.”
This didn’t seem quite fitting, and a friend who volunteers for the Northwest Missouri Genealogical Society had a suggestion. Why not contact John Grimes?
Grimes, a retired Marine, has made a specialty of researching cemeteries and getting veterans the grave markers they earned as members of the military.
Last year, he secured military tombstones for two area men, killed in France during World War I, and arranged for a formal memorial service at Camden Point Cemetery.
A St. Joseph man, Grimes said he recognized this arrangement, a temporary stone that became permanent, for whatever reason.
“They cast a brick with the guy’s name on it, and they stuck that in as a temporary marker,” he said.
This ran up against a Veterans Administration definition for what constitutes a gravestone. Cline, with Grimes helping compile information about Richey’s service record, sent a request for a military tombstone to the VA.
“I signed it and sent it in, and we were denied. They said it was already marked,” she said, adding. “They were very courteous about it.”
Still, it didn’t seem right. Enter Jeff Redel, a family service coordinator for Meierhoffer Funeral Home & Crematory in St. Joseph.
“My father was a veteran in the Korean War,” Redel said, later noting. “I’m a flag-hugger.”
So Redel made another run at it. On April 17, he wrote a letter to the VA that read, in part: “The brick placed on Private Richey’s grave was placed as a temporary marker only. It was used to hold the location only until a proper headstone was completed and installed.”
He sent it without a lot of certainty the earlier decision would be overturned. To his delight, it was.
“I guess I worded it right,” Redel said. “I was super happy that they accepted the application.”
Not only that, the tombstone, of familiar white marble with its identification of Richey’s cavalry company and his birth and death dates, has arrived in St. Joseph. A graveside service, with full military honors, is being planned for Sept. 6, Richey’s birthdate, at Mt. Auburn.
Todd Meierhoffer said his family’s funeral home has long been involved in respectful farewells for those who served in the military, and he praised all involved for the persistence it took to get this headstone.
“That’s the story, the teamwork,” Meierhoffer said. “And for a gentleman buried in 1919 now to have his grave marked, that’s a real testament.”
Grimes complimented Redel for making a compelling case to the VA. “The letter that Mr. Redel sent pushed it in the right direction,” the Marine veteran said. “He did extra work to get this. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Cline credited both Grimes and Redel for their work, adding that she thought her great-grandfather would soon be properly honored.
“I’m proud to have him in my family,” she said.
A GoFundMe site has been established to help pay for the placement of Paris Richey’s headstone and its ongoing care. The website can be accessed at: www.gofundme.com/pris-ritchy-100-year-old-headstone.