MILTON, W.Va. — Those tied to late war hero Chester Howard West worry the full story of his final resting place isn’t being told. West, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the battlefield in World War I, is buried in a remote cemetery now located in the Chief Cornstalk Wildlife Management Area in Mason County.
A circuit judge issued an order which cleared the way for West’s remains to be exhumed and moved to the state Veterans Cemetery in Kanawha County. Fellow Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams is behind the push to relocate West as a way to more conspicuously honor his service and distinction since the cemetery where he’s now interred is in disrepair.
But according to Paul Smith, the step-grandson of West’s widow Maggie Van Sickle, the court record on the matter isn’t entirely correct.
“The Van Sickle Cemetery out there is in disrepair and it has been for some time, but not because the Van Sickle family didn’t try to take care of it.” Smith said on MetroNews Talkline Friday. “They’ve been denied permission by the DNR to take any equipment in.”
The controversy ignited when a Boy Scout working on his Eagle Badge took on the task of cleaning out the graveyard. Smith said he doesn’t know who gave the scouts permission to enter the property, but says the family was not consulted. Since the attention to the West case, the family has since been given future permission to access the site and maintain the graveyard.
However, the bigger issue to Smith and the Van Sickle family is denial of the wishes of West’s widow who buried him there along with her other two husbands. Smith’s grandfather, Charles Avril Smith, was Maggie Van Sickle’s third husband. Charles Smith is buried next to Chester West and Ms. Van Sickle’s first husband. Paul Smith was eight years old and attended the burial when his grandfather was placed there. Smith said his family would have rather had Charles Smith buried elsewhere, but it was Maggie’s wish that he be buried alongside her other two spouses.
“I was in my late teens and I asked her one day when my dad and I went to visit her why she buried my grandfather so far away,” Smith explained. “She said to me, her mouth to my ears, she had outlived three husbands and she wanted them all three buried together where her parents are buried.”
Although the intent was for Maggie to also lie beside her husbands eventually, it turned out she was buried in South Charleston when she died in 1968. Problems with access to the cemetery led to her interment elsewhere. But, Paul Smith and the Van Sickle family believe the wishes of West’s widow should be honored for all time.
“I know Mr. Williams’ greatness, but Maggie was Mr. West’s spouse. Her word should stand,” Smith said. “Nobody should be allowed to interfere in a private, family cemetery and deny the wishes, particularly that were made 82 years ago, of Maggie to honor her husband Mr. West to bury him with her parents and her two other husbands.”
The decision of whether West’s remains will stay in Mason County or be moved to the Veterans Cemetery in Institute now lies with the West Virginia Supreme Court.