One hundred years ago, Eastern Kentucky’s own Willie Sandlin received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly destroying three German machine gun emplacements and killing 24 of the enemy on Sep. 26, 1918, at Bois de Forges. Only Sgt. Alvin York received more citations for valor in that war.About WordPr
Sandlin’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
He showed conspicuous gallantry in action by advancing alone directly on a machine gun nest, which was holding up the line with its fire. He killed the crew with a grenade and enabled the line to advance. Later in the day he attacked alone and put out of action two other machine gun nests, setting a splendid example of bravery and coolness to his men.
Sandlin died in 1949 of lung infections caused by his exposure to poison gas during the Battle of Argonne. He was buried at Hurricane Cemetery in Hyden, Kentucky, but later moved to Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, where his widow was interred with him.
“We are deeply honored to welcome Sgt. Willie Sandlin home to Hyden, where he raised his family and continued his service to country and community,” said Commissioner Benjamin Adams of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.
“As chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission, it is an honor to participate in the commemoration of Sgt. Willie Sandlin, one of the true heroes of WWI,” said Kentucky native and Vietnam Veteran Terry Hamby. “Sgt. Sandlin set the standard for soldiers for the next 100 years. His humility and unassuming leadership serves as our example from then until now.
As work began years ago to prepare a site for the future Kentucky Veterans Cemetery South East in Leslie County, Sandlin’s immediate family, including his daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with members of the Leslie County community, started working to bring the Sandlins home.The cemetery was officially dedicated on April 26.
“Sgt. Sandlin is very special to the people of Leslie County,” says Dean Osborne. “He was well known here not just for his military service, but for his service to the community to help eradicate adult illiteracy. He never spoke about that day in the war, but often said how much more he could have done in his life had he been able to read and write better than he could.”
Osborne credited many people in Hyden and Leslie County for helping to make the state Veterans cemetery a reality as well as make it possible to bring Willie and Belvia Sandlin home. “The honor for us to be able to have a Veterans cemetery on our soil, we thought it would be wholly fitting if the family would agree to have him brought back to his home.”
“The principals in making this move happen [are] his immediate family,” Osborne said. “They have worked very hard to get this done.You’ll rarely find a place in America that has the esteem and respect for Veterans as mountains of Kentucky. Sgt. Sandlin was such an iconic figure, it seems perfect and fitting that he be the first burial for this cemetery.”
More than 100 people attended the memorial ceremony, including two dozen members of Sgt. Sandlin’s extended family to the fifth generation: from granddaughter to great-great grandchildren.
VA’s National Cemetery Administration made a $6 million grant to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs in January 2017 for construction and purchase of initial equipment. The Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs now covers the operations and maintenance costs.
The cemetery will expand in four phases, for a total of 4,588 gravesites by the end of Phase IV.
About the author: The Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs works every day to make sure Kentucky’s 331,000 Veterans and their families receive all the benefits and services they have earned. The department offers free services and benefits counseling provided by a network of experienced and dedicated paid staff, provides representation before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during formal and informal hearings, and is operating three state-of-the-art Veterans nursing homes. KDVA has opened four state Veterans cemeteries and is planning a fifth.