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Veteran gets military recognition 44 years after his death

Aberdeen American News - 4/28/2017

April 28--Cindy Mohr grew up hearing stories of her grandfather serving in the military as a cook for his unit in the Spanish-American War.

Her grandfather was Aberdeen businessman Thomas Jefferson "T.J." Henegar, who founded Aberdeen Sand and Gravel Co. He ran the company starting in the early 1900s and was known to some as Sandy, a nickname he acquired because of his work.

The Spanish-American War was an 1898 conflict during which the U.S. backed revolts in Spanish-ruled Cuba. That was after tensions grew between the U.S. and Spain concerning Cuba. The war lasted about eight months.

Henegar was 93 at the time of his death in October 1973. But he didn't receive any military honors at his funeral because no record of his service could be found.

Those records, Mohr said, were destroyed in a fire.

The fire was in July 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo. According to the center, 16 million to 18 million military records were destroyed.

Mohr's mom, Dolores Forrest, spent years compiling information and seeking recognition for her father. When Forrest died in 2014, however, she hadn't completed the task. That's when Mohr took over.

"I didn't know the extent of how hard she tried until I got all the paperwork," she said.

After her mom died, Mohr found a folder with all of Forrest's research.

"I knew exactly what I had to do," Mohr said.

Even though a significant amount of time had passed, Mohr decided to pick up where her mom left off.

Ultimately, verifying Henegar's military service took a group effort. Mohr, who lives in the Twin Cities, enlisted the help of Sam Olson, a friend of hers from Aberdeen. Olson is the American Legion county commander and Americanism officer for the Sydney L. Smith American Legion Post 24.

Olson was visiting Mohr in June 2016, heard the story about her grandfather, and immediately wanted to help. So he contacted Brown County Veterans Service Officer Aaron Walberg. They then reached out to the Aberdeen office of U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

"We kept running into dead ends," Olson said. "I finally asked Cindy if she could send me photos, and from there we were able to find out (Henegar) had medals."

The photos depicted him in uniform wearing two small medals given out for service in the Spanish-American War.

"From those medals we were able to show he was in service," Olson said.

Mohr said that 44 years after the death of her grandfather, his headstone at Riverside Memorial Cemetery will finally get a military marker. She and her family will place it May 6.

The undertaking was a testament to perseverance.

"I just figured don't give up. If you can't find it in one place, look in another," Olson said. "We know now he was a veteran."

Much of the research was handled by Thune's office, he said.

As Americanism officer, Olson said he felt it was part of his job to make sure Henegar was properly recognized.

Walberg said confirming military service or military awards is part of his job, too.

"We do stuff like that all the time in this office," he said.

The age of Henegar's case made it unique, Walberg said, but his role in the process was small. The credit, Walberg said, goes to Thune's Aberdeen staffers, who put in the requests for the necessary military records.

"It's really a neat deal," Walberg said. "These are guys that served in the late 1800s, and here we are 119 years later setting a military marker to commemorate his service to this country. It just goes to show you it's never too late."

Judy Vrchota, northeast regional director for Thune, said quite a few veterans and family members visit the office seeking military records to obtain benefits or get medals that aren't listed in official records.

Because of the fire in St. Louis, confirmation of military service is sought elsewhere, she said. Records from military hospitals and Navy ships can help.

"We work with all the agencies we can and leave no stone unturned," Vrchota said.

Follow @ElisaSand_aan on Twitter.

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(c)2017 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.)

Visit the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.) at www.aberdeennews.com

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