Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
alert top story

Son has father exhumed for burial at Rock Island National Cemetery

  • Updated
  • 0

Rodger Kelley's family laid him to rest in a Davenport cemetery after his sudden death 11 years ago.

At just 48, Kelley's death came as a shock to his wife and sons. His grandparents are buried at Davenport Memorial Park, so the family chose to put Kelley there too.

After more than a decade, though, the choice didn't feel right.

When Kelley died in May 2011, his youngest son, Joe Kelley, was a 21-year-old airman for the U.S. Air Force, getting ready to be deployed to Afghanistan. Another son, Jon Kelley, was an Army sergeant who was just back from a deployment to Iraq.

Their dad had been a U.S. Marine.

"I wrote a three-page eulogy when he died," Joe said. "He always called me 'Mini-Me.' Dad was our biggest supporter."

In 2020, Joe started work as a caretaker at Rock Island National Cemetery on Arsenal Island. Earlier this year, the wheels started turning.

"It's hard to explain," Joe said. "Working this job, you see the family members. You see the regulars who come to the cemetery every week and bring a chair to hang out with their loved ones. You see the flags that are put on the graves on Memorial Day."

Joe wanted the same for his dad.

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

The now-32-year-old Bettendorf man spoke with his family, paid several thousand dollars to have his dad's remains exhumed, then made the necessary arrangements for re-interment at Rock Island National.

As part of those arrangements, Joe dug his dad's grave and did some of the engraving on his new headstone.

"How many people get to say they're a veteran and their dad's a veteran, and they got to do this?" he asked Monday. "I wouldn't have been able to do it in the year after he died. It would have been too hard.

"I have so many memories. I wanted another, I guess."

For the burial service on Nov. 15, Joe even led the funeral procession to the cemetery.

"All of my co-workers were out there, the (Post 246 Moline Legion) Honor Guard and family and friends who could make it," he said.

The Irish-American Kelley family especially enjoyed the movie, "Braveheart," Joe said, and his dad could recite every word.

"We put the ending line of the movie on his headstone: 'Every man dies, not every man really lives.' That seemed just right," he said. "Now that he's here, I drive by his grave every day. I wanted to see him more often, and I know he'll be taken care of here.

"I feel like this is where he belongs." 


* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News