Distant relatives alerted to WWII soldier grave by newspaper article
Cousins Art Tellin and Linda Burns had no idea that their distant relative who gave his life during the D-Day invasion of World War II was buried in Cedar Memorial Cemetery without a proper headstone. They were also unaware of the unusual circumstances that led to the discovery, and how veterans and their advocates came together to set things right.
“Linda reads the paper — I mean she really reads the paper, very closely,” Tellin said. “She read the article you wrote and then immediately called me to say, ‘I think they are talking about our family.’”
Tellin, a resident of Solon, and Burns, who lives in North Liberty, are distant relatives of Sgt. Leonard L. Kelly. The Army mechanic was a Cedar Rapids native, the grandson of Joseph Tellin, and served in the 67th Regiment, 2nd Armored Division. While serving Kelly received mortal wounds on the beaches of Normandy.
I had the honor of writing a news article about Kelly, and how the online auction of his Purple Heart not only brought the community together, but forged a new urgency in the search for all unmarked veterans’ graves in Linn County.
Kelly was the son of Emma, who had a brother named Art Tellin. He gave birth to a son, Lester, in 1913, and a daughter, Thelma, in 1910.
The cousins, who attended the May 4 memorial service for Leonard Kelly at Cedar Memorial, are the grandchildren of Art Tellin.
Linda Burns is the daughter of Thelma and Henry Krahling. Linda said her father was well-known in Cedar Rapids since he was a captain in the local fire department. She also has a twin brother, David, who lives in Cedar Rapids.
Art Tellin, named after his grandfather, is the son of Lester.
To put it another way, Emma Kelly, mother of Sgt. Kelly, was a great aunt to the cousins.
Kelly died in 1944, and his body was returned to Cedar Rapids in the summer of 1949. At the time of his burial, a funeral was held and his brother, Elmer, submitted an application for a military grave marker. No one knows if the marker ever arrived.
More than 60 years later, after his Purple Heart was sold in an online auction, Becky Watson, a Story City woman, traveled to Cedar Rapids and discovered the grave was unmarked.
The county Veterans Affairs office worked with Cedar Memorial staff to obtain a new military grave marker, and several organizations provided donations to have that marker mounted on a granite stone and placed at Kelly’s gravesite.
Those sponsors include the Linn County Veterans Charity Fund, Midwest Military Outreach, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 10, Fleet Reserve Association Hawkeye Branch 216, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 788, Veterans Memorial Commission, Michael and Cheryl Anderson, Bruce Wright, Pete Olmey, Mike Barron (American Legion Post 298), Watson, and Michael Blackburn (the Oklahoma man who purchased the Purple Heart to insure it would come to no harm).
This week’s service mirrored the collaborative effort with the Army National Guard Honor Guard folding and presenting the flag, American Legion Post 298 performing a 21-gun salute and playing Taps, AMVETS Post 6 providing the flag line and presenting the colors, and a host of area veterans and their families standing in observance.
“We are so happy to have been here, to see all of this,” Burns said during the reception hosted by Cedar Memorial. “We are grateful to everyone who had a hand in making sure his grave was recognized.”
If you couldn’t make the service, you can still view Kelly’s Purple Heart. It is on display through the end of the month at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the 2nd Avenue bridge.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 8, 2016. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington/The Gazette