Times Herald (Port Huron, MI) - December 1, 1999 Deceased Name: Civil War hero gets his overdue honors By DEANNA WENIGER
Mary J. Madill, 91, stood quietly in the freshly fallen snow Tuesday beside the grave of her grandfather John B. Billenstein.
After 82 years, this German immigrant who fought in the Civil War was finally getting his military funeral at Lakeside Cemetery in his hometown of Port Huron.
"It's been a long time," Mrs. Madill said, her eyes misty with distant memories. "It feels nice to have this done." The 160th anniversary of his birth is this Christmas.
Five uniformed riflemen of the St. Clair County Allied Veterans Council burial squad raised their weapons and fired a salute to Mr. Billenstein.
Mrs. Madill of Marysville looked down at the bronze marker while a sixth squad member played taps on a bugle. The marker, set flat in cement, reads: "John B. Billenstein, Dec. 25, 1839-Jan. 5, 1917, Pvt. Co. K. 1st Mich. Inf., Civil War."
Mrs. Madill can't say for sure that her grandfather never had a military funeral, but it had bothered her for years that the stone marking his grave had crumbled and had the wrong first name on it.
At 91, she didn't want to wait for something to be done about his grave. "On account of my age, I wanted to see something like this done for my grandpa before I die," she said.
She had tried to get a marker from the government six years ago, but was unsuccessful. She had made up her mind to buy a new marker with her own money, when a friend from the St. Clair County Allied Veterans Council stepped in to help.
"I probably made a dozen calls to Washington," said Robert Vezina, a war veteran himself. He started his quest last summer. "If anyone thinks you can just call someone up and get a marker, they're crazy," he said, whirling his index finger at his temple. "You've got to get the papers filled out and you've got to get the proof."
A cousin in Florida helped find Mr. Billenstein's Army discharge papers, and a bit of digging by Mr. Vezina turned up the rest of the documentation, including a birth certificate, obituary and pension information.
Born in Bavaria, Germany, Mr. Billenstein came to America with his father when he was 7 years old. They settled first in Adrian and later moved to Port Huron where his father established the C. Kern Brewing Co.
He became a citizen of the United States in 1862 and that same year was seriously injured in the Civil War during the second battle of Bull Run in northern Virginia. More than 23,000 men were killed, missing or wounded when the North and South clashed on what had once been peaceful farm fields.
Mr. Billenstein was stabbed in the right eye with a bayonet, but survived the wound to live to be 77 years old.
Mr. Billenstein lived on a government pension of $26 a month following the war. He was a war hero in the Billenstein family, especially since no other men in Mrs. Madill's direct family line served in the military.
Three other members of the Allied Veterans Council attended the short ceremony. None had ever heard of a military honor like this come so late after a soldier's death. "This is really, totally unusual," chaplain Jack Hood said. The council performs more than 100 military services a year.
"This is the first time in my experience," said Clarence Klotz, council member. "But definitely anyone we may identify should be honored with government plaques and recognition."
Even if they are 82 years overdue.
John B. Billenstein was wounded in a Civil War battle at Bull Run and died 55 years later in Port Huron.
A NATION'S THANKS: Chaplain Jack Hood of the St. Clair County Allied Veterans Council presents a U.S. flag to Mary Madill, granddaughter of John Billenstein, during his belated military funeral Tuesday at Lakeside Cemetery in Port Huron. At right is Robert Vezina, past VFW commander.
By RALPH W. POLOVICH, Times Herald
VETERAN: A bronze plaque now marks the Port Huron resting place of Civil War soldier John B. Billenstein. Copyright (c) Times Herald. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.