This Veterans Day, Simon Suhler -- his 19th century deeds of valor long lost in a sea of aliases -- will finally receive his just reward.
In a national military cemetery in San Antonio, a new gravestone will be unveiled today, embossed in gold leaf with the Congressional Medal of Honor he received for fighting Indians in 1868 on the Arizona frontier under the name of Charles Gardner.
The emergence of this forgotten figure -- one of two Jewish Medal of Honor winners from the Indian Wars -- is the result of roots research by William Suhler, an IBM statistician and family genealogist who lives in Rockville.
Thanks largely to the detective work of Suhler in Washington and frontier history buff Jim Kenney in Texas, the Suhler clan, including three Holocaust survivors from France, is holding a first-ever family reunion in San Antonio. After brunch at cousin Sid Suhler's house, they will attend formal ceremonies at the San Antonio National Cemetery.
The new headstone notes Simon Suhler's Medal of Honor achievement, under his real name, not his alias, and it includes a Star of David.
Suhler was one of 423 Medal of Honor winners from the Indian Wars. Today's ceremonies are being sponsored by 15 veterans groups, with a local rabbi giving the invocation and William Suhler unveiling the marker. There will be a 21-gun salute and taps by members of the 5th U.S. Army Band.
The unlikely assemblage of Suhlers in San Antonio will learn of the strange and daring deeds of their ancestor's life.
"Within the family, I'm the only one who even knew of his existence," said William Suhler, 55, who knew only that he had a great-uncle, name unknown, and had even visited his probable place of birth in Marksteft, Bavaria.
Here is what he, and others, found in their research:
Simon Suhler, born 1844, emigrated to the United States sometime between 1858 and 1861, when he enlisted in the 32nd Indiana Volunteers. He was wounded in the knee at Shiloh and captured at the Battle of Chicamauga. He was later paroled at Vicksburg, Miss., and spent time in two Union hospitals. He then disappeared and was classified as a deserter.
On June 9, 1863, he enlisted again, this time under his mother's maiden name of Newstattel, in a regiment of the New York Heavy Artillery. He served out the war in that unit and was discharged on Sept. 26, 1865.
Suhler, alias Newstattel, went west to San Francisco, and joined the 8th Cavalry on Oct. 15, 1866, under yet another name, Charles Gardner. He was sent to fight Apaches in Arizona. For "bravery in scouts and actions against Indians" in 1868, Pvt. Gardner was awarded the Medal of Honor. He also was recommended for promotion to second lieutenant, though he never joined the officer ranks.
While Simon was fighting Indians, his brother Aron arrived in the United States in 1872, soon to become the first Reformed rabbi of Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco, Tex. Aron had seven children, including William Suhler's father.
Simon Suhler never married. His military career lasted until Sept. 6, 1878. Afterward, he moved to San Antonio, where he sold produce, sewing machines and lightning rods, was the deputy county assessor and a bookkeeper, and adjutant of the August Belknap Post, No. 37, Grand Army of the Republic.
In 1890, he had the desertion charge expunged and tried to get a disability pension for his long list of wounds. He did not succeed, perhaps in part because of confusion over his name.
Simon Suhler, alias Newstattel, alias Gardner, died in San Antonio on May 16, 1895, at the age of 51, and there his story ends.
For William Suhler, the story began last June when Kenney contacted cousin Sid Suhler in San Antonio, who contacted cousin Bob Suhler of El Paso, who wrote their Rockville relative. Kenney, a University of Maryland graduate "fascinated by deeds of valor," said he discovered Simon Suhler and his aliases in a manuscript by Indian Wars historian John Carroll.
In some respects, Simon Suhler's life may forever remain clouded in mystery. No photo of him has been found, and one enlistment paper described his complexion as light while another said dark-skinned.
Why he deserted and changed his name is also unknown.
Why he chose a third name, Charles Gardner, and where it came from are the final unsolved mysteries of this man's unsung but heroic life, posthumously recognized by the government he served and the family he never knew.