It’s also not Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who have served their country. It’s Memorial Day. The day we remember those who have died in the service of their country.
General John Logan, the Commander-in-chief of the U.S. army, proclaimed the first national Memorial Day.
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
Originally intended to remember the Civil War dead, it is now a day to remember those who died in all wars. The southern states joined in observing this holiday after WWI.
I am not a fan of war, who is? In my life I have certainly disagreed with my government’s policies in this area, but no matter where I stand politically, my heart aches for all the young people who gave their lives for my country. They deserve to be remembered and honored.
My husband and I have many relatives, both dead and living who have served and continue to serve in the U.S. military. I can remember only one who died on the battlefield. His name was Hiram Blood and he died at Gettysburg. This is far enough in the past that all those who felt the pain and loss on his death are gone. I am grateful that I can find only one distant relative to remember on this day.
I have written a bit about the five Blood brothers and how their service was a microcosm of the different approaches men and families had to the Civil War, but this is about Hiram.
I discovered Hiram’s fate entirely through serendipity. I was wandering around the Godfrey Library in Wallingford, Connecticut. The Godfrey is a repository for New England genealogy. Yet, as I wandered around aimlessly my eye was caught by a row of books on the bottom shelf, Michigan in the Civil War.
Michigan? We had Civil War people in Michigan. I picked up the book, the names were in alphabetical order and there was Hiram, with enough information to be sure that that it was our Hiram. Next to his name it said, “Died at Gettysburg.” I was stunned. To this day I cannot articulate why this had such a strong emotional impact. I do know that my less emotional spouse had the same reaction. There is something surprisingly moving about having a person, no matter how distantly connected to you, who is also connected to this turning point in American history.
What of Hiram? Hiram was born in 1844 in Kent County, Michigan. His father was a farmer, his grandfather was something of a bad boy, but eventually settled down to farm, his great-grandfather was a Revolutionary War General.
Hiram’s older brothers were already serving on August 17, 1862, when Hiram marched off to join the army. He was only 18 when he joined the 3rd Michigan infantry. What was he thinking? Was he drawn by duty? Did he think it would be glorious? Was he afraid or buoyed by the belief common to young people, that they are immortal?
Hiram was killed less than a year later, on July 2, 1863. He died on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg during a bloody battle in the peach orchard– the peach orchard, such a bucolic name for such a bloody place.
I wonder if Hiram died quickly or if he knew he was dying and thought of home and family. There is a definable moment when we leave this world, when we draw our final breath. No one should face that moment alone. We all should have the comfort of a human voice, a human touch, even if it seems we are past any consciousness. I hate to think of that 19-year-old boy, dying too young, in the midst of horrible carnage, without the comfort he deserved.
I always have a hard time with Memorial Day. It seems like a day to be observed, not celebrated. That said, we work hard, a three day weekend and time to enjoy friends and family is a good thing. My compromise is to have that hotdog, enjoy the official start of the summer, but stop for a while to think about the reason for the holiday. If I get this blog done early and I stay sober I might even email my Congresswoman and Senators and let them know what steps I think should be taken to limit the sacrifice of our young soldiers. I urge you to consider joining me in this effort.