Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorials and Monuments

Soldiers National Monument - view of a soldier and the figure "History."  Two other figures, "Peace" and "Plenty" adorn the opposite side of the monument and Liberty is atop the obelisk.
I live near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and have visited the battlefield there hundreds of time in my life. First, I went with my parents. Visiting Gettysburg was our family’s preferred way of spending a Sunday afternoon. I played in Devil's Den from the time I was allowed to run around on my own, and we usually picnicked somewhere on the battlefield.  Now, I visit on my own. Gettysburg is crowded in any season of the year but never more so than in the summer. This year the town and battlefield will likely be even more crowded than usual, as 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the battle.
As a local resident, I learned long ago that I preferred to visit at the least busy times. Winter is an especially beautiful time to visit. This year, with summer and the 150th anniversary fast approaching and the Memorial Day weekend a kind of unofficial start to the summer season, I figured I’d better get there before the rush or I’d have to wait until after Labor Day to avoid the crowds. I wasn't particularly successful in avoiding the crowds this time.

There’s a lot to see in Gettysburg and though I’ve been there so often, I still don’t think I’ve seen everything, and some things I haven’t seen in quite a while. Every time I make a trip here, I try to visit a spot that I haven’t visited in a while or some place where I haven’t spent as much time as I’d like. This time, befitting Memorial Day, one of my primary stops was the national cemetery, where President Lincoln gave his famous address.
It’s been quite a while since I walked in the cemetery, and I’d forgotten some important things about it. Perhaps the first thing I noticed was that soldiers from other wars are buried here too. I saw graves from both WWI and WWWII, and if soldiers from more recent wars are buried here, I didn’t see them. Two graves from WWII, side by side, were noteworthy. The death date for the grave on the right is December 7, 1941 and the grave on the left is June 30, 1945. Those two deaths mark the start and nearly the end of that conflict.
The other thing I’d forgotten was just how many graves of the unknown there are here. Nearly half of the Civil War soldiers buried here are unnamed. Sometimes the graves are marked Union or Confederate unknown, sometimes the name of the unit is printed on the gravestone, sometimes the state where the soldiers came from is marked but mostly the graves are simply Unknown. Hundreds of graves, perhaps even more, are marked this way.
On a stone from Maine, marking 104 bodies, was a small homemade wreath made of dried pine needles and a note, which reads, “To the brave sons of the Pine Tree State who gallantly fought and died here so long ago. You are not forgotten by the students of Riley School, Rockport, Maine.”
Tomorrow: I'll share photos from another part of my afternoon.

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