Sunday, May 20, 2012

Never Forgotten

At the age of 9, Daniel and his family settled from Ireland to the area around Galena, Illinois in the northwestern part of the state.  Shortly after the family moved here, his father died unexpectedly, and his mother remarried and moved the family across the Mississippi River to Dubuque, Iowa.  Daniel grew up farming the land overlooking the Mississippi River.

When he was 24, his adopted nation called and he enlisted with the US Army and served in battle for 5 years with the US 12th Infantry.  Injured in combat, he still fought on until the end of the war when he received his honorable discharge, and then he returned to Dubuque - the place that he loved.  He never married and passed from this world at the age of 74, then he was laid to rest in Rockdale Cemetery.

Daniel McGinnis did not invent anything, was not in politics nor business and would just be another face in the crowd at any gathering.  He would just be a forgotten footnote in the history of this town, if not for the unselfish act of two people.

Five hundred miles north of where Daniel lived out most of his life,  Marshall Davis, a decendant of one of Daniel's brothers, was working to compile his family history.  Compiling Daniel's information was easy enough as far as his military records and obituary were readily available to compliment family records.  One final item to clear up was to get a picture of Daniel's headstone, so Marshall enlisted the services of volunteers with the Find-A-Grave website (

Meanwhile, in Dubuque, I had decided to work on my own genealogy and started working with findagrave again.  I put in some requests and decided that I should take on the task of knocking off some of the local requests that had been up for quite awhile.  Rockdale Cemetery is rather small and easy to access, so I would go for a quick photo and clear Daniel's stone off of the list.

The 'quick photo' turned out to be a nearly year long endeavor.  See, when Daniel died, his niece had his body shipped from the Iowa Soldiers' Home in Marshalltown to Dubuque for burial.  The funeral arrangements were all made and the burial happened just before the frost set in.  The records at the Veterans office and those family records all showed that Daniel's final resting place was at the Rockdale Cemetery, but no gravestone was found in or around the cemetery for him.  Was he really here at this cemetery or were plans changed at the last minute and just weren't updated.  The search was on.

Church records showing Daniel McGinnis is in Plot 196.
Marshall tried several times to reach the caretaker of the Rockdale Cemetery.  Because it is a small graveyard, there isn't a full-time office or caretaker present, so it was difficult to make the connection to anyone that had access to burial records at the church and cemetery.  In the meantime, I continued on with fulfilling requests from findagrave at the other cemeteries in the area and kept a steady eye out for Daniel's grave.  When we finally were able to contact the caretaker at Rockdale, I had canvassed all but one cemetery in town.  Sure enough, church records showed that Daniel was indeed interred at Rockdale and the grave site was checked to make sure of that.  At long last, Daniel's whereabouts were known.

With Daniel's funeral taking place in November, I am sure the intent was to order a headstone in the spring, but somehow the stone was either never ordered or just never set.  Eventually, Daniel's only living relative in the area passed on and so Daniel lie in an unmarked grave - for over 100 years.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Daniel died in 1910.  He fought in the US Civil War at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville and eight other battles, including the Battle of Gaines' Mill in June 1862, where the 12th INF suffered losing half of their troops.  It was probably at this battle, where Daniel was shot in the leg.

Here Daniel was, a true American war hero, and he was in an unmarked grave in a small cemetery in Northeastern Iowa.  Marshall and I both felt that Daniel should finally receive his gravestone - to never be lost again.

Having served his country in military service and receiving an honorable discharge, the US government makes provisions for a grave marker to be issued at the cost of the government.  It doesn't matter if the person fought in battle or not, just as long as they have an honorable discharge.  All the paperwork was submitted to the Veterans Department and that stone was cut, embossed and shipped to Dubuque.  Brannon Monument received the stone and placed it in the cemetery and then, after laying in an unmarked tomb for all these years - and searching for nearly a full year - Daniel's whereabouts will always be known to the world.

Most importantly, this Memorial Day and Veterans Day (and each one as long as I live in this area), a flag will be placed according to military protocol at the grave of a man I never had the pleasure of meeting nor ever read about when studying Civil War History.  A man I feel totally indebted to for his fight to keep this land that we both love, free.

Corporal Daniel McGinnis.  Civil War Veteran.  American Patriot.  You are gone from the surly bonds of this life, but you are not forgotten.

FOOTNOTE:  In the process of reviewing the church records, we discovered that Daniel's brother James (whom it was believed was buried elsewhere) was also buried in the Rockdale Cemetery.  Two unmarked graves were found.  James' tombstone will be ordered and placed when all of the records are compiled and sent to the Veterans Departement.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life and Death - My Enduring Battle With Depression

SPOILER ALERT/WARNING: This post is going to be about some of my encounters with Major Depressive Disorder.  I will be discussing some things that are of a very, very personal nature and include some of how I have arrived at this particular point in life - a point that is sad, scary and yet true.  I am not asking for sympathy, only understanding.  I am also hoping that if there is anyone else that reads this post, that is experiencing the same in their life, they will seek out a professional to help them through it.  Life is precious and wonderful.  Everyone matters and is valuable.  The battle sometimes appears impossible, but that is where your professional help comes in - they help you to defeat the beast.  You are worthy.  You can win.

I had finally come to the point where I was to say, "it is finished and I am out of here."  I was almost ready to take my bow, wave to the crowd and exit - stage left.  No encore.  No second act.  Last night of the tour and last night with the band.

I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the emotional roller-coaster ride that had been my life's story.  When I slept and if I had dreams, they were all of the rather macabre variety.  Car wreaks...train derailments...planes...bombs.  Gory, high speed deaths with no escape and with no hope of survival.  I was barely eating, hating work and basically just going through the actions of being a human being.  I took a mental note of my value to self and society and was short-changed.  As I saw it, I was pretty much a drain on everyone and not worthy of the next breath I was to take.  The only thing keeping me from crossing that final portal to the afterlife was a rapidly eroding fear of death and an equally vanishing opinion of the selfishness of suicide.

Here I am, deeper in debt than ever imaginable - so deep that I can never, ever get out of it.  I am in an occupation that I am totally burned out on, yet I keep going back to out of sheer necessity - it pays the bills to barely survive.  My marriage just keeps getting worse and I am dragging her down a road that she doesn't need or deserve to be on (thankfully, for her, she abandoned ship in an attempt to keep from sinking).  I am enduring ridicule all around me because there are those that I am forced to deal with that think they have to tear down the littler guy so far beneath their own miserable life in a effort to feel far superior.

So, after spending the morning at work in a mental fog from over 48 hours of no sleep, I was forgetful and beating myself up for not remembering something minor, I had just had a minor accident at work where I was drilling a large hole and the the bit caught on a nail, thus nearly twisting my wrist.  The final straw was when someone I work with asked me for the item I had forgotten and then was verbally upset over the fact that I had forgotten the item.  It was then that I yelled back and then clammed up and was sent home.

Those "what if" thoughts started happening.  Like a cartoon with the little devil on one shoulder and the little angel on the other:

"What if I wasn't here anymore?  Then they wouldn't have me to harp on"

"They would just find someone else to yell at."

"What if I was just to drive this truck into that bridge abutment?"  That would show them."

"Yeah, but what if you killed someone else in the process?"
"Nobody would miss me if I was gone."

"Who would take care of those five cats that love and adore you and depend on you?"

The back and forth like that carried on for almost 15 minutes.  The largest part of me just wanted to be free of the mental pain, the exhaustion and the deep sadness that had enveloped me.  Basically, the total darkness that I felt inside.  There was that tiny little part of me that wanted to go on, fight through this and and get beyond it all.  Fortunately, I listened to that little whisper and followed it's desire to win.

I went to someone that I knew I could trust and that would point me in the right direction and told her that I needed to talk to someone.  I was nearly in tears.  She gave me two phone numbers of local agencies and I called one, which led to an answering machine, and then the other.  An appointment was set for the next morning to do the intake and, within twenty-four hours, I was getting the professional help I needed.

The path is not easy by any means.  I still suffered the ridicule from those that always offer it.  I have suffered the shame of having people wonder - sometimes aloud - if I am going to commit suicide.  Most important is that I am getting help from people that are trained in how to work through this and how to deal with the little crap that pops up and add to the problem.

Sure, I still have the debt, marital issues and hate my job, but I see myself in a totally different light.  I even see others a little bit differently.  I am going to get through this and become a stronger person, in spite of depression.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa Caucus - 2012

Well, it is that time again.  Time when we, the American populace, examine what has happened to our country over the past few years, determine what we each feel are issues that need to be addressed and act accordingly.  Those actions are spoken with our vote for the highest office in our own government - the Presidency of the United States.

As a citizen of the State of Iowa, I am fortunate in that my voice is heard first.  From the very heart of this great land, the collective voice yells out which of the candidates are better prepared and have presented what we see as the solutions to our current problems.  After our voice is heard, then the rest of the nation has their say and the field of candidates narrows down to a more manageable size.  The major parties present their best and brightest candidate and we all make a final determination of who we feel is the best person for the highest office in our nation.

The first round in each state is either a primary election or a caucus.  I am fortunate enough to have lived in states that utilize both formats - Arizona is a 'Primary State' and Iowa is a 'Caucus State.' 

When I lived in Arizona, we would go to the polls during the primary election, enter a voting booth, mark our ballot, submit that ballot and then go about our business.  The polls are open all day as they are during any General Election and so you pick a convienient time, drop by, spend a few minutes to vote and then leave.  Pretty much all we did when it concerned politics.  Sure, some got involved, but the majority did not.  So it is in a 'Primary State.'

Here in Iowa, it is quite different and seems to allow for us to each take ownership in our government.  Even the format for the Republican Caucus and Democrat Caucus is different.  Both parties start Caucus at a certain time, go for an hour or two and are done.  When you show up to a Republican Caucus (which is the only I have personally experienced), begin as a group of several precincts meeting in a larger area.  A representative from each candidate (or even the candidate themselves) is given five minutes to speak as to why they are the best person for the position.  You then separate into your individual precinct, elect a chairperson and a secretary from your precinct to lead and record your voice, and then cast your ballot.  Ballots are collected there, tabulated right there, in front of you and you know before you even leave the building, how your precinct voted.  After that, you chose delegates to represent your precinct at the county party convention, discuss what issues you feel the party as a whole should stand for or address (these are called "Planks") and then you are done.  All of the precincts get tabulated together and the totals for each candidate are called into the county party headquarters, where the totals are then sent on to the Secretary of State.

Four years ago was my first experience with the caucus and I was quite pleased and fascinated with the whole thing.  This year, I even took an active roll within my precinct as the secretary and honestly feel it is much better than the primary system - it allows each voice to be heard and allows for neighbors to get better acquainted with each other and address issues on a level that is much closer to home than even can be expressed as it is in a primary state.

Some things get better with time, but for me, I really feel that the old 'tried and true' method of caucusing is the better system.