Reflecting on Memorial Day

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Memorial Day was set up as a tribute to those who fell in the American Civil War. It was intended to honor the men who died on both sides of that struggle. What’s stunning about the Civil War is that both sides were American. Sure, there was a different accent, but we spoke the same language, shared the same religions and revered the founding roots of the same country. Not only that, but so many of the fighting men – especially the officers – knew each other, had gone to school with each other, went to class together, drilled together, went to dances together and prayed together. I’ve mentioned before the story of Sam Grant and Simon Buckner… Grant had been bounced out of the army before the war for drunkenness. When he worked his sad way home, humiliated, out of money and down on his prospects, his friend Simon Buckner met him in New York and gave him money to get back to Illinois. When the war came, General Buckner commanded Fort Donelson, until Grant and the Union forces attacked it. It was the first real Union victory of the war and began the long bloody march toward Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. At the surrender, General Grant met another old friend from school, Jim Longstreet. Imagine what this was like: four years of Americans killing each other, all the time knowing the men on the other side and being actual friends with them. The unity of this country is a great thing. We’re fortunate to have the same language and culture, fairly unified across our 50 states. Our disagreements today are reasonable and negotiable and – let’s admit it – tolerable. We can fight them out on shows like this, instead of on battlefields like Shiloh and Gettysburg. Even in the midst of this horror in the Gulf, we share the same homegrown American optimism. “France was a land, England was a people,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter - it was the graves at Shiloh and the tired, drawn faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.” It still is, on this Memorial Day weekend, a country united by a readiness to hope.

Reflecting on Memorial Day

Updated