- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) - It all started with an unusual phone call.

McCracken County Sheriff’s Deputy Derick Pugh got the call about two weeks ago. It was from a man who owns a house in the 2400 block of Hovekamp Road, between Paducah and Reidland.

“He said his tenants had moved out recently, and he had gone to the house to do some cleaning,” Pugh said.

While there, Pugh said, the landlord found a grave marker leaning against the back of the garage.

“He said he’d never seen it before and had no idea where it came from,” Pugh said. “He didn’t know what to do with it and asked if someone would come by and take a look.”

Not sure what to think, Pugh said he did just that.

The grave marker belonged to a man named Sherrell Mitchell, a former U.S. Army private and a veteran of World War II.

Pugh took the marker to the sheriff’s department and enlisted the help of Detective Greg Moyers to find where it belonged.

Moyers, who describes himself as “very pro-veteran,” said it became his mission to find either Mitchell’s next of kin or his grave so the marker could go home.

“I had to do something,” Moyers said. “That man served his country, he fought in a war, he deserves better than to have the marker just sit here.”

The detective did some searches and made some phone calls, hoping to find any records for Mitchell, but came up empty. That’s when another detective suggested he call the Sun. A reporter recommended Moyers go to the McCracken County Public Library and search the newspaper archives for obituaries from January of 1973, when Mitchell died.

“That did the trick,” Moyers said.

Moyers found Mitchell’s obituary, which produced a list of the soldier’s next of kin.

“I recognized one name immediately,” he said.

It turned out Mitchell’s daughter, Claudia Bell, was a Paducah Realtor who had sold the detective his first house.

Bell said she didn’t know what to think when she got Moyers’ call.

“At first I thought it might be a prank or a scam of some sort,” she said.

Once reassured, Bell met Moyers at his office in the McCracken County Courthouse.

“It’s just so strange,” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”

Bell said the grave marker was actually a replacement for the one already affixed to her father’s headstone. The marker had been ordered years ago by Bell’s aunt after they noticed an error on the original, but the replacement never came.

“I have no idea how it ended up on Hovekamp Road,” she said, adding none of her family or friends has ever lived in that area.

Bell remembers her father as a “man’s man,” standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing about 220 pounds. He liked to hunt, fish and garden. He was also a “car guy,” she said, who especially loved Chevrolets.

He was smart, too, she added, especially when it came to mathematics.

“He taught me how to do math,” Bell said. “I remember sitting in third or fourth grade, or whatever grade they teach long division in, and not understanding what the teacher was saying. Then Daddy would explain it and I would get it.”

Bell said her father served in Europe as an Army truck driver, delivering mail to units during the war. He carried a scar on his side from when he was wounded in Italy, she added, and received several commendations, including a Bronze Star.

After the war, Bell said, her father married and moved to Michigan, taking a job in an auto plant.

When Bell was in her teens, she said her father suffered some sort of gastroenterological condition. He died Jan. 19, 1973, at the age of 51 after several years of health complications. He was buried at Owens Chapel Cemetery near the Melber community in Graves County.

“I was crazy about him,” she said. “He was a good man, and I was the apple of his eye. It’s really outstanding of the sheriff’s department to go to all this trouble to get my father’s grave marker back to me.”

“It’s very rewarding to see the plaque go back where it belongs,” Moyers said. “I couldn’t rest with it just sitting here. (Mitchell) deserved better than having his headstone just stuck in a garage somewhere.”


Information from: The Paducah Sun, https://www.paducahsun.com

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