With more than a century of rain, wind, snow, and pollution conspiring to erase what was once carved into a row of headstones, about the only thing anyone in the tiny north-central Illinois community of Odell knew of the men buried there was that they'd fought in the Civil War. That'll be different this Memorial Day at Odell Township Cemetery, thanks to scientific detective work by local high school students and a federal government agency that was impressed enough with their work to send new grave markers to the community 90 miles southwest of Chicago, the AP reports. "These kids gave these men their identity back," said Harold Schook, a 74-year-old Air Force veteran.
The last three of five new headstones arrived last month and were put in place with the others—the final chapter in a story that began a couple years ago when Schook contacted Paul Ritter, a high school science teacher at Pontiac Township High School who'd had his students study the effects of acid rain on grave markers. Maybe, Schook suggested, the students could discover the names of the men who were identified simply as "soldier" in the cemetery's plat map. At the suggestion of a student, students took a color photograph of the markers, and then turned it black and white. Nothing. But when they reversed those two colors: "We started (seeing) some letters," Ritter said. Using those letters, the students compared them with a registry of the 157 Civil War veterans in Livingston County. Before long, they had their five names. Read the full story and learn about the soldiers here. (Read more Civil War stories.)