PEKIN — Not many people know it, but three Tazewell County residents earned the Medal of Honor, the military's most prestigious decoration.

It's an achievement that a few dedicated folks in the area are hoping to make more well-known, with a ceremony next weekend honoring the trio, who each earned the medal for actions during the prolonged Battle of Vicksburg in 1863.

The discovery of the honor — which has been earned by only about 3,500 people nationwide — came by happenstance. County Clerk John Ackerman was talking with deputy recorder of deeds Sharon Sciortino, who mentioned to him that the office kept military discharge papers for 980 Civil War veterans. Looking through, they saw the Medal of Honor citation for Thomas C. Murphy of Green Valley.

The Irish-born Murphy volunteered for war at age 17, and two years later was serving as a corporal in the 31st Illinois Infantry when it was sent to assault the fortifications in Vicksburg, Miss.

But some wires got crossed. In addition to coming under fire by Confederates defending the city, they were also being shot at by another Union unit.

"He volunteered at 19 years old to run in front of his men firing, in front of Confederates firing, in front of the other Union (unit) firing at him because they don't know who he is, with the message, 'Stop, you're hitting us!'" Ackerman said. "It was amazing gallantry."

It's also an amazing history lesson, says Christal Dagit, who heads the Tazewell County Museum.

"The children (locally), especially, need to know they have some deep-seated historical living-up to do," she said.

Hence the desire to raise the profile of Murphy and the other two who earned the medal from the county with a ceremony next Saturday at the Green Valley Cemetery, where Murphy was buried after his death in 1920. The event comes within days of the May 22 date on which Murphy — and the other two men — earned their medals.

And it will feature a guest officials managed to land by sheer good fortune.

Working with the county clerk's office in Salt Lake City, Ackerman got a contact for someone they believed to be a relative of Murphy.

"It just happened to be the relative that inherited the Medal of Honor," he said. A several-times-great-nephew, apparently.

"What are the odds of getting the one family member that far removed that happens to have it?" Ackerman asked rhetorically.

And the good fortune continued.

The relative offered to put the medal on loan to the Tazewell County Museum for display on an ongoing basis.

Dagit hopes that a sign can be erected eventually nearby, noting that unless people are looking for the grave and see the Medal of Honor notation on the gravestone, it passes with little attention.

Both agree that's not right for a man who returned home from the carnage of war and gave back to his community.

After seeing so much bloody combat, Murphy enrolled at Rush Medical College and practiced as a physician in Manito and Hopedale, helping to heal.