David Wendell returned to Marion — his hometown — from Washington DC when his father fell seriously ill.
When his father passed away last May he responded the way many do when faced with trauma: distraction. He put his nearly encyclopedic knowledge of American History and his reporting skills from his days at the Chicago Sun Times to track down the stories of 65 Iowa native Civil War generals and many other Iowans whom made significant contributions to the war.
His nine months worth of work tracking down these Civil War heroes will be displayed for the first time today at 5 p.m. at the , the 150th anniversary of of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., which was the first major engagement for Iowa troops.
Wendell said the project began when he learned that a Civil War general Thomas McKean was buried in a Marion cemetary.
"It surprised me due to having been raised in this area that i had never heard of this man," he said.
He then decided to search for more generals, eventually finding 65 in the state of Iowa.
But as he searched, he said he realized that it wasn’t just the generals who made a difference int he war effort.
"As the project continued and I visited towns and graves and residences, I realized that you didn’t have to be an officer to play a critical role in defending our nation," he said.
In his nine months worth of travels between the Mississippi River and the Missouri River and found around 300 Civil War heroes, from an Iowan woman who founded an orphanage for the children of deceased soldiers to a freed slave that was a part of a landmark Iowa State Supreme Court decision that allowed slaves to be free once they crossed into Iowa territory.
Marna Rehage, director of the Marion Heritage Center, said she was blown away by the lengths Wendell went to find the stories of so many Iowans.
"I think it was just perfect," she said. "It is a major part of our country and something that should be remembered. It really puts the local into the national perspective."
Wendell said he is glad he had the chance to spend time with his father before he died. Now that he’s back in his hometown, he said he doesn’t have any plans to return to Washington DC anytime soon.
At least, not until his work is done.
"Sometimes you can come home again," he said. "So long as I can find more untold stories of Iowa history, I will stick around."