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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Local Buffalo Soldier Buried at Arlington 84 Years After Death

In 1925, Congressional Medal of Honor winner Corporal Isaiah Mays was buried in a pauper’s grave at All Souls Cemetery on the grounds of the Arizona State Hospital with about 2,400 others. There had been no headstones in this long-forgotten cemetery of the original hospital, only numbers etched on bricks, marking the spots of the dead. The portion of the hospital that housed the records of who was buried there burned in 1935.

Because of the concern of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, The Old Guard Riders motorcycle club and the Missing In America Project, the remains of Mays’ have been exhumed and will be taken to Arlington National Cemetery later this month where he will buried with full honors along side other heroes.

“He is symbolic of everyone who has ever served their country and died and ended up in a forgotten grave someplace,” said Ronald Eppich, 54, of the Old Guard Riders. “He defended his country. He fought for his country. He earned this nation’s highest honor. He’s been there for 84 years.”

After making their way through the Maricopa County Superior Court system to be designated to act legally on behalf of Mays, he was exhumed on March 19 and 20, Eppich said.

Phoenix Police officers David Hopkins and Lou Manganiello took part in the exhumation. Both were moved by the experience.

They did a lot of digging by hand and helped find several pieces of bone and some scraps of material. The burial practice for the indigent at the time was to wrap the deceased in material, place the body into a grave and throw lime on it to aid decomposition.

“They didn’t expect to find much, but they found more than expected,” Hopkins said.

Manganiello, 58 and a Vietnam vet, he was surprised where the grave was found.

“It’s a very large field surrounded by a chain link fence. There could be up to 2,000 people buried there. There are no headstones, just numbers. I never knew there was a burial site back in there, Manganiello said.

“I was thrilled to be a small part of history,” said Hopkins, 45. who served in the army between 1981 and 1984. “I am a veteran myself and I know the significance of this award.”“It was really quite an experience for me. I had goose bumps, it was part of history what this solider did. Born a slave and do what he did and be awarded the highest honor this country can give. We will be able to finally give him the recognition he earned, a proper burial in a place where he can be with fellow heroes,” Hopkins said.

The story of this Buffalo Solider is a one of daring and courage. Born a slave in 1858, he went to Columbus, Ohio after the Civil War where he enlisted in the army, Company B, 24th Infantry Regiment. On May 11, 1889, he and several others from Company B were guarding an army paymaster and a shipment of gold and silver between two army posts southeast of what is now Phoenix. They were ambushed by bandits. The payload worth $29,000, a fortune at the time, was taken by the masked men. Eight of the soldiers were wounded in the gun battle. Mays was shot in both legs. He and one of his fellow soldiers walked and crawled several miles for help for their wounded comrades. For his bravery Mays was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor, the highest military decoration bestowed by the U.S. Government.

Eppich said Mays worked as a laborer until the age of 65 when he put in for a pension for his military service. He was denied. He died an indigent on May 2, 1925 at the age of 67, still crippled from the ambush. Known at the time as the Territorial Insane Asylum, it treated the mentally ill, tuberculosis patients and the poverty stricken. Many buried there were patients, some of the staff and the very poor.

“We don’t know what he was doing at the hospital or how long he had been there, but his death certificate cited the cause of death as paralysis of the insane, better known as a stroke,” said Eppich a Vietnam era veteran.

In 2001, the US. Department of Veterans Affairs provided a proper headstone for Mays.

Eppich said that on May 21, Mays will take a cross country motorcycle ride to Arlington and on May 29, be will be given a 30 minute service at the memorial chapel, be driven to his grave site by a horse drawn caisson where his urn will be placed in a ground grave, not a nitch or wall. He will be given a rifle volley and a special gold embossed headstone of all Medal of Honor recipients.

Both Hopkins and Manganiello have been invited to join the trip to Arlington, representing the police department.

The Old Guard Riders are a non-profit organization that does charity work connected with veterans, whether that be attending military funerals, leading funeral processions or working with the Missing in America Project that claims the remains of veterans which are unclaimed or abandoned in cans or boxes at mortuary and funeral homes, making sure they have a proper burial.

To learn more or to make a donation towards the trip to Arlington visit www.oldguardriders.org, or make a donation to the FOP Lodge at 12851 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix 85029.

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