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Eagle Scout Returns Medal of Honor to War Hero’s Grave

Eagle Scout Derrick J.
Eagle Scout Derrick J. at the burial site of Chester Howard West in Southside, W. Va. (photo credit: Kenny Kemp)

After decades of anonymity, a World War I hero and Medal of Honor award recipient’s legacy has finally reclaimed the distinction his life-saving efforts earned, thanks to one Scout’s Eagle Scout project.

Yet before today, the mystery of first sergeant Chester Howard West’s whereabouts was a challenge deemed too difficult to uncover for most. But not for Eagle Scout Derrick J. of the Blue Ridge Mountains Council.

After a 2012 West Virginia TV series titled “Obscurely Famous” attempted, yet failed, to locate the missing grave of the WWI soldier, the Eagle Scout became fascinated with the idea of tracking down the hidden grave.

The land once named the Van Sickle Cemetery was acquired by the Division of Natural Resources to become part of the Chief Cornstalk Wildlife Management Area in the 1970s. The entrance to the burial ground closed, the forest blanketed the land, and the cemetery was nearly forgotten.

Derrick went above and beyond to research the region, recruiting ten friends and dedicating nearly 73 hours to the project. He tracked down the GPS coordinates to the cemetery and scoped the forest for potential clues. Sure enough, he came across some uniquely beautiful plants that stood out against the surrounding indigenous brush.

The decorative plants were in fact the same plants used to beautify the old cemetery. After encountering many concealed grave markers, Jackson and his search crew uncovered West’s headstone beneath a fallen oak tree. However, the marker was missing a very important credit – his Medal of Honor.

Restoring Honor to Soldier’s Resting Place

Created during the American Civil War, the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. The recipient must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States. The honor is generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.  For more information please visit: The Congressional Medal of Honor Society.  

Eager to credit the soldier’s heroic deeds, Jackson is among a team of community leaders trying to obtain a court order to move the soldier’s resting place to the new Donel C. Kinnard Veterans Cemetery.

“You’ve brought a lot of visibility to an issue that may be resolved by having Sgt. West’s remains disinterred and reburied in a place of honor,” Maj. Gen. H James Hoyer told the Eagle upon completion of his final presentation. “I think you’ve done a very significant thing.”

“There’s still work that can be done,” Derrick told Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “I’m hopeful that I can continue what’s been done or that another Scout will pick this up as a project as well.”

To read the full story of Jackson’s dutiful Eagle Scout project and learn more about the sergeants’s valiant background, head over to Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

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Hayley

Hayley Cordaro is a communications specialist at the Boy Scouts of America. She loves sharing inspiring success stories and uncovering new ways volunteers and employees can make the most of their Scouting experience. If you have story ideas or questions, reach out to us at communications@scouting.org.