So, today is Memorial Day 2010. We will, en masse, head to our grills and coolers. Some of us will stay home; many will head to a family reunion. We will be with friends and family. I think you would find more ribs and hamburgers consumed today than any other day of the year. Oceans of soft drinks and beer will help us celebrate this day. Dear Reader, why and for what are you celebrating? You get an extra day off, maybe with pay? You get to sleep in? Maybe you spent Saturday doing all your yard work so you could have this day to play. Yes, you will have a great day and I am glad for you. But….
That’s one million, three hundred and three thousand, six hundred and ninety six men and women who have died fighting our country’s wars. It is not an exact number. This day is for them. I visited a Civil War battleground last year and wrote about it at the time. The original story is posted as follows and is my tribute to 1,303,696 patriots.
(From the National Park Service Website) “The Battle of Stones River was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. More than 3,000 men lay dead on the field. Nearly 16,000 more were wounded. Some of these men spent as much as seven agonizing days on the battlefield before help could reach them. The two armies sustained nearly 24,000 casualties, which was almost one-third of the 81,000 men engaged.”
We visited this battlefield not long ago. It is just outside Murfreesboro, Tennessee. As most Civil War sites are, it is quiet and well cared for. In the serenity of the fields, it is hard to imagine the carnage that took place here 145 years ago. You really don’t. At least, not until you see the National Cemetery. There are 6,162 graves there. 2,100 some odd were never identified (“known but to God” as the military is fond of saying). Most of the graves are for Union soldiers who died in that horrific three-day battle. It is deservedly a quiet and reverent place. This is the place where the term “hell’s half acre” was coined. One is moved to reverent silence.
Throughout this hallowed place of rest, there are small signs reciting the poem “The Bivouac of the Dead.” Here is the first verse:
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
their silent tents are spread,
and Glory guards, with solemn round,
the bivouac of the dead.
It is a long poem (you can read it at http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hist/BODpoem.asp). When I get to the end, I am further moved and choked up. These men died for an ideal. They died for you and me. They died for freedom.
I am shocked and saddened at the memory of this place but very glad our nation has made it a scene of peace and solitude. As we left, I let my family go ahead to the car. In silence and near tears, I turn to face the graves of these men. The only appropriate response was a silent, slow salute. They each had their own story. Each had their own way of dealing with those awful three days. They were one man. Imagine.