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Face Time with James Locke Lyon

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2014 10:18 p.m. CDT
(Jessi Haish - jhaish@shawmedia.com)
James Locke Lyon, commander of the Department of Illinois' Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, looks at a binder of gravestones of DeKalb County Civil War veterans he has documented in his Sycamore home on Thursday. Part of his work includes documenting DeKalb County Civil War gravestones and making sure they stay in good condition.

SYCAMORE – James Locke Lyon wants to use his Civil War fascination to better a county landmark.

Lyon, a retired firefighter from Sycamore, is intrigued by Civil War because his great grandfather was a Union soldier. He started the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War’s local camp, the Gen. E.F. Dutton Camp #49 in 2011 with Tom Oestreicher.

Lyon recently spoke with reporter Jessi Haish about his interest in the Civil War and his work to restore the Civil War monument on the DeKalb County Courthouse lawn.

Haish: Why are you interested in the Civil War?

Lyon: My great-grandfather went into the Civil War at 15, out of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Why did a 15-year-old from Kenosha want to fight? So that’s been interesting to me. 

Haish: What does the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War do?

Lyon: The charge is to make sure these guys aren’t forgotten, that their gravestones are taken care of and the monuments are taken care of. There are eight camps, these groups, in the state of Illinois. We have two encampments a year, where everybody in the state comes. 

I have six three-ring binders of Civil War veterans gravestones in the county. We’re locating those. We find out if they need to be replaced, because we can get them replaced through the government. I’ve walked all but a couple cemeteries in the county, looking at the gravestones. My own great-grandfather, buried in St. Louis, didn’t have a gravestone. So here I am a guy trying to help other people and it’s like, wait a minute, my great-grandfather doesn’t even have a marker. So I’m working on that through the state of Missouri.

Haish: How did you become the Illinois commander?

Lyon: A month and a half ago I was approached by a number of people to run as the state commander and I was elected. I went from just here, starting this camp up two and a half years ago, and now I’m in charge of the whole state. It was a natural fit. In 2016 we will have the national encampment here in Springfield, so I’m on the committee for that.

Haish: What’s next for you?

Lyon: Eventually we’ll take on more projects than just DeKalb County, but for now we’re just focusing on here. The project we are working on now is uptown; it is the monument [on the Courthouse lawn.] We figure it’s a $10,000 project. The gun that’s in his hands is not right. It’s been stolen over the years and replaced. The other guy should have a sword, and his keeper to hold the gun has been gone for years. We have a guy coming, he’s an artist from Pittsburgh, and he’s going to redo it. He’s done a number of monuments. He’s going to recast the guns, secure them on there so people can’t get them off. In August we’ll host a Meet the Artist event. You wouldn’t notice [the state of the monument] going by it, and I probably wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t joined this group. There was over 2,200 guys who went [to the war] from DeKalb County. They deserve this monument to be correct. This isn’t just for Sycamore, this is a county monument.

• Who would you like to see featured in Face Time ? Let us know at news@daily-chronicle.com. The feature runs each Monday.

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