Staff Sgt. Daniel Symonds has always been fascinated by his great-great-grandfather Pvt. Daniel R. Symonds, perhaps because of their similarities. They share the same name, they’re both the youngest of their siblings, and they both fought in a time of war.
“About 25 years ago, I turned to my father and I asked him, ‘How did you guys name me?’ and he said, ‘You were named after your great-great-grandfather and he’s buried at Forest Home Cemetery.'”
Daniel, now 40, lives in Chicago and is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For 25 years, he tried on and off to garner more information about his great-great-grandfather, partly to satiate his curiosity, but by and large to give the Civil War veteran a proper burial.
Daniel knew Pvt. Symonds was buried at Forest Home, but he never knew where. What’s more, his father told him that if he could find Pvt. Symonds’ military records, they could arrange for a military burial – which meant a headstone.
“I put in a couple of requests to the National Historical Society, but they couldn’t find anything,” Daniel said.
After that, the search went cold for several years, around the time Daniel joined the Army in 2002. The Army Reserve Staff Sergeant served two years over multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Upon his 2010 return from Iraq – he was welcomed home in Forest Park’s veterans return ceremony last year – Daniel decided to resume his search. He joined the genealogy website ancestry.com, and was able to find an accountability sheet for Pvt. Symonds that showed he was a volunteer private in the Union Army’s 20th Main Division, Company K. This took him to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
“I went to the national archives and I was able to get his pension records and his muster sheet. … I saw his enlistment papers, his hospital records; he had typhoid at the end of the war,” Daniel said. “He participated in the siege of Petersburg, the Battle of Five Forks and the Battle of Appomattox where Lee surrendered to Grant.”
“When I opened up his folder and I looked and saw where he signed his name [on the enlistment sheet], I had a Cheshire cat grin on my face,” he added.
Pvt. Symonds died of an aneurism on Feb. 1, 1896, and for 115 years an unmarked concrete rock served as his headstone at Forest Home.
“A lot of those people from the [Civil] war … didn’t have money,” said Jim Peters, general manager of Forest Home, which opened in 1873. Daniel affirmed this, noting that his great-great-grandfather was a laborer after the war.
“The reason I went and did this was so we can at least get him a headstone,” Daniel said. “When you serve … you are entitled to a veteran’s grave.”
The next step was to petition the army for the military burial that Pvt. Symonds never received. Daniel contacted the Army and passed along Pvt. Symonds’ military records, and the Army agreed to give him an honorable burial at Fort Sheridan Cemetery in Highland Park.
Daniel then applied for and received a disinterment permit so he could exhume Pvt. Symonds’ remains from Forest Home, and rebury him at Ft. Sheridan, which he did on April 9.
“I’m the guy who jumped in the grave and took him out of the grave – out of love and honor … as a fellow soldier,” said Daniel, choking up as he spoke. “I took him out on my hands and knees.”
Pvt. Symonds was buried in a pauper’s grave at Forest Home for 115 years whereas Daniel, an Army reservist, trained at the 318th Army Reserves Unit, 7410 Roosevelt Rd., for nine years.
“He was just a stone’s throw away from me,” Daniel said.
The Symonds family buried Pvt. Symonds next to Daniel’s brother, John, who served as an Army reservist for 20 years and fought in the Persian Gulf War. He was laid to rest on the anniversary of the Battle of the Appomattox.
“It came together … what I needed to do to get it done got done,” Daniel said. “This wasn’t for me. This was for my great-great-grandfather.”