Remains of a Civil War veteran, long forgotten in storage, will receive full military honors in a funeral made possible by a Kent couple with a passion for history.
TACOMA — It’s the kind of oversight that’s hard to imagine.
Maybe the relatives of James and Irene Powers were just too busy to take care of the final arrangements for their loved ones, who died in 1921 and 1928, respectively.
After all, the couple’s son, the Rev. Jesse D.O. Powers, was a leading progressive clergyman in bustling Seattle back in the day, supporting the women’s suffrage movement, among other causes, with prayer and speeches.
“In Seattle, no one spoke more frequently or convincingly than the Rev. J.D.O. Powers of the First Unitarian Church and Rev. Sidney Strong of Queen Anne Congregational Church,” according to the book, “The Concise History of Women’s Suffrage,” which was published in 1978.
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Whatever the reason, urns containing the cremated remains of James and Irene Powers sat in “community storage” at a Seattle cemetery for decades until a Kent couple with a passion for the Civil War came across them this year.
Seeing what they considered a wrong, Loretta and James Dimond decided to try to make it right.
Now, James Powers, who served in the Union Army during that long-ago conflict, will get the military burial he rightfully deserves. His wife will be buried with him during a Dec. 10 memorial service at Tahoma National Cemetery near Kent.
“It is a significant event,” James Dimond told The News Tribune recently.
The Dimonds are teaming with Robert Patrick of the Washington chapter of the Missing in America Project, which works to find, identify and inter the unburied remains of veterans.
The three are planning a service with full military honors for James Powers, replete with gun salute, the playing of taps and other accouterments. Members of local Civil War re-enactment groups plan to be on hand.
“We’re going to support this the best we can,” said Tom Yokes, director of Tahoma National Cemetery. “It’s important.”
Powers will become the second Civil War veteran buried at the cemetery, joining Medal of Honor winner 2nd Lt. Jesse T. Barrick, who lies at rest in Section 8 of the picturesque graveyard. Barrick also served in the Union Army.
That Powers will join him is due in large part to the curiosity of the Dimonds, who both have master’s degrees in history and come from families with military backgrounds.
For the past 22 years or so, they’ve dabbled in American history for fun, James Dimond said. The Civil War has been of special interest, he said. Their hobby has included searching for the remains of veterans lying in unmarked graves and obtaining proper headstones for them.
But even they were surprised by their discovery at Lake View Cemetery, a picturesque graveyard on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
George Nemeth, manager of Lake View, said that decades ago the cemetery became a repository for the city’s unclaimed cremated remains. Nearly 1,700 remains were stored there in empty crypts.
“It happens periodically that people will come claim them,” Nemeth said.
Last summer, Loretta Dimond paid a call to Lake View, looking for the remains of possible veterans. Two names on the cemetery’s list of unclaimed remains, those of James and Irene Powers, caught her eye.
The dates of their deaths, during the Roaring Twenties, coincided with a period of time that saw many Civil War veterans die.
A process of “detective work” ensued, which including trips to the National Archives offices in Seattle for copies of military pension-payment receipts, scouring newspaper morgues for obituaries and internet searches for information about Powers.
They concluded Powers had served in the Union Army and deserved a military funeral.
The Dimonds worked with Patrick of the Missing in America project to negotiate the bureaucratic process of having Powers verified as a veteran and obtain authorization to hold a military funeral for him at Tahoma.
Powers, it turns out, was born in Michigan and worked as a farmer near Kalamazoo before enlisting in the Union Army in 1864 along with his future father-in-law, the Rev. Orlando Keyes.
Powers spent most of his enlistment in Arkansas, where he worked as a company clerk and medical assistant, James Dimond said.
His company, the 12th Michigan, had fought in the brutal battles at Shiloh and Vicksburg earlier in the war but had been relegated to more mundane duties in the waning years.
After the war, Powers returned to Michigan, where he embarked on a career in public service that included working as a teacher, school inspector, highway commissioner, state representative and attorney, records show.
“He was a literate and smart person,” said James Dimond, adding that Powers went on to become an attorney.