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ONLY ON 12: Fort Gordon soldiers unbury history in forgotten Ga. cemetery

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011

HARLEM, Ga. -- The rumbling engines of the American Legion riders pierce a quiet Harlem morning. Behind the group of riders is a small army of Fort Gordon soldiers on a special mission.

Under the cover of dead leaves and dirt lies an historic cemetery forgotten and now shrouded with mystery.

"It has definitely been forgotten. It's on the end of a road -- very few cars go by there, so I thought something needed to be done," said Julie Benton.

She's a member of the American Legion and helped set up the mission that started Saturday morning to uncover the history that's literally behind her house.

"We've got a lot of young eager soldiers that just want to help ... it's a beautiful day -- it's been a lot of fun so far," said Ryan Carlson, a student at Fort Gordon who helped set up the volunteer project.

It was especially interesting for him and the other soldiers, given the number of veterans buried there.

"Six to 12, we think. We just want to show them proper respect," he said.

"I've seen ... births that are prior to 1865 out there, so it's just amazing that something like that would get lost through time," Benton said.

All that history hooked Harlem Police Chief Jesse Bowman, and he hopes the whole community will be hooked as well.

"I think, back in the days, there were eleven original churches that used this cemetery, and so it really unites the city again like it was many years ago," Bowman said.

Members of one of those churches looked on in amazement as almost half-a-dozen unmarked graves were uncovered for the first time in decades. One of them was Deacon Eddie Germany of the New Hope Baptist Church of Harlem. His father is buried somewhere in the cemetery.

"I am happy to see somebody taking an interest in this cemetery," he told News 12.

He says the next step is investigating the two acres of history and making sure it doesn't become forgotten again.

There was also talk that the site may have been used as part of the Underground Railroad. They're hoping to get a hold of old documents and records now that could shed more light on the history out there.

Saturday was the first day of the community service project. They'll be back early Sunday morning for day two.

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