TOPEKA — In his farewell address to a joint session of Congress in April of 1951, Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
Thanks to the efforts of Jean Fremion-McKibben and the Veterans Headstone Project, the memory of three noteworthy local soldiers is not fading away. The broken headstones of William McConnell, William A. McConnell and Hezekiah J. Eash were recently replaced in the Gerber and the Pashan cemeteries. The McConnell headstones were completed in collaboration with the Topeka Area Historical Society.
William McConnell was born July 30, 1780, in Pennsylvania. He served under Joseph Vance (13th governor of Ohio) as a captain of riflemen in case of Indian attacks. When the War of 1812 broke out, Vance’s riflemen were incorporated into the Ohio Militia. In the fall of 1836, McConnell and his wife Agnes purchased land in Section 35 of Eden Township in LaGrange County.
McConnell played a prominent role in the development and growth of Hawpatch (Topeka), serving as the first postmaster. He is also said to have been the community’s first justice of the peace and helped to organize the Hawpatch Presbyterian Church, which met in his home.
McConnell died on April 13, 1848, at the age of 67 and was buried in the family cemetery. Today known as the Gerber Cemetery, it is located across the road from the Eden Cemetery west of Topeka.
William A. McConnell
William A. McConnell, the grandson of William McConnell, was born in 1839. William A. was a Civil War veteran serving in the 30th Indiana, mustering in on Jan. 25, 1862. He died in 1870 in Eden Township.
The original headstone had become badly worn and was not legible. According to Fremion-McKibben, the stone was actually in the wrong place, being located in front of another family member’s headstone. Uncertain of where the stone was originally, the new marker is located close to his grandparents William and Agnes.
Hezekiah J. Eash
Not much is known about Hezekiah J. Eash. He was born to Jacob and Sarah Eash in Indiana in 1876 or 1877. U.S. Army records show that he enlisted in Pueblo, Colo., just a month shy of his 24th birthday. His occupation was listed as that of a barber.
He died on Nov. 10, 1901, at the age of 24 while on duty in Legaspi, Philippines, from typhoid fever. He was buried in the Pashan Cemetery near Shipshewana.
Thirty-one headstone improvements have been completed via the Veterans Headstone Project began in August of 2011. Next year, 28 projects across the county are scheduled for completion as funds are available.
Tax deductible donations can be made to the Veterans Headstone Project by contacting Jean Fremion-McKibben at 260-463-6479 or the LaGrange County Community Foundation at 263-463-4363.