July 5, 2002 at 5:41 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 3:41 AM
RICHFIELD, Ohio (AP) - Capt. Elijah Welton lay buried under a simple marker in the West Richfield Cemetery for more than 180 years.
Then a high school student who cut the cemetery grass took notice of the Revolutionary War aide to Gen. George Washington.
Now, after years of obscurity, Welton is being embraced by the village he called home for the last four years of his life.
"Welton is an important part of the history of Richfield," said Linda Fleming of the society. "He and his family came here when this was wilderness and helped carve out a community."
Welton drew Washington's attention when he refused to accept a discharge after losing the use of an arm. He had been shot with a British "poisoned musket ball" during a battle in 1779 in New York state.
His superiors tried to persuade Welton, 37, that after two years of fighting the Redcoats, the war was over for him. But he refused to return home to Connecticut while the war against England still raged.
His zeal was noticed by Washington, who asked Welton to serve as his aide-de-camp. Welton spent the last years of the war driving Washington's wagon and caring for the general's personal belongings.
He was at Washington's side when Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Va., in 1781, the last major military engagement of America's war for independence.
Welton might have remained one more obscure internee in the West Richfield Cemetery if not for Michael Kukral, who earned money cutting the cemetery grass while a high school student in the early 1980s.
As he ran his mower near Welton's tiny grave marker, Kukral often wondered why Washington's aide did not have a bigger stone.
It became something of an obsession for Kukral, now a geography professor at Rose-Hulman College in Terre Haute, Ind.
He gathered as much as he could about Welton's life for his 1985 thesis at Ohio State University. Later, he wrote a letter to the editor of the former Richfield Times, asking the community to honor the hero buried in their midst.
Nothing happened until 1999, when members of the Richfield Historical Society found a copy of that letter and decided to honor Welton with a monument.
Richfield then built a larger monument, dedicated on Memorial Day, to honor the veterans of all U.S. wars.
Now, visitors can't miss the monument with the story of the Summit County Revolutionary War veteran. Even though most of Welton's life remains a mystery, his name is honored.
In 1816, at age 76, Welton traveled by ox cart from Connecticut to Richfield to join his son, Isaac, who had settled in Richfield five years earlier.
Welton brought with him a precious cargo -- a seedling of a Canadian red apple tree that would be the rootstock of the family's apple orchard business, which lasted for generations.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)