Karen had Veterans' Day off and, though a struggling freelancer's labors are never done, I joined her for a ceremony yesterday that seemed to me the perfect way to mark the day.
Our city has a cemetery that was established way beyond the outskirts of town to meet a need that became apparent one day in 1854 when a drunk fell into a puddle and drowned. Early families whose names survive as streets and parks were buried in the old Rural Cemetery. In the century and a half since, of course, the city grew to swallow it and make a lie of its name. The cemetery suffered years of neglect and abuse until in recent decades a corps of volunteers took it on. It still needs work, but it is finally appreciated and cared for.
A minor chapter in the cemetery's story was a monument dedicated on Memorial Day 1914 by local posts of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union veterans' organization. The small triangle of land contained a large granite obelisk, a wooden garrison flagpole, two cannons captured during the Spanish-American War, and stacks of cannonballs. The monument's fate paralleled the cemetery's. The cannons and cannonballs were sacrificed to the scrap metal drives of World War II, at some point the flagpole went missing, and the area was overgrown. Only the obelisk endured. Volunteers began cleaning up the area in the nineties. With community support they replaced the cannonballs with replicas ("Adopt a Cannonball for $35"). An authentic 100-year-old fir flagpole was installed in 2008. And yesterday we gathered to mark the installation of two replica cannons, completion of the restoration, and the rededication of the Grand Army of the Republic Monument.
The program: Brief remarks from local historians and dignitaries. The Gettysburg Address delivered by President Lincoln. Explosive rifle volleys from a group of six Civil War re-enactors. A benediction. Taps. All set on the face of an oak-covered hill surrounded by the graves of soldiers who died in battles that ranged from the Civil War to World War II, sober reminders that preserving a country is a long-term and occasionally deadly commitment. What more could make a better Veterans Day than that?
Our first Republican president and I.
This gentleman was a pretty terrific Lincoln.
After the rededication we walked around the cemetery and found this marker, overgrown by an oak. This is the sort of thing that encourages one to take a long view of history and one's place in it. And so it goes . . .