Memorial Day 2010: Every fallen should be remembered for something

May 31, 2010
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On this Memorial Day, 2010, every fallen, known or unknown should be remembered, thanks given and prayers said for them, those left behind, and the millions still serving.

This column originally appeared  in print in the Sunday May 30, 2010 edition of the Joplin Globe .  It is reprinted here at the request of a Wichita reader.

By Geoff Caldwell
Special to The Globe

— Civil War re-enactors and a film crew from Ozark Public Television last weekend descended upon the quiet country town of Newtonia to film scenes for an upcoming documentary regarding its unique place in our Civil War History.

While there were two battles over the course of the war, it is the first battle of Newtonia that is stirring renewed historical interest.

For it was during that battle that Native Americans behaved exactly akin to the white men of the day.

They fought against each other in uniforms of opposing armies.

Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw were in Confederate gray, while Union blue was donned by additional Cherokee. It is one of only a few times during the war that saw uniformed, regimented, Native Americans fighting on both sides.

It was against that backdrop and amid a waist-high sea of grass, muddy creeks, and steaming woods that the Blue and the Gray met once again on those fields. Though the shots were blank and orders were shouted from a director’s platform rather than dispatched from headquarters at Ritchey Mansion, the sense of history could not be abated.

And while the only casualties were some unexpected chigger bites, muddy boots and sweat-stained uniforms, one could not escape a feeling of deep respect for what was endured by the original participants those many years ago — the fear that they faced, the hardships endured.

As I paused in the Ritchey cemetery during a break in the shooting, I was carried back to that time. A time not so very long ago and yet so very much different in the waging of war, the survival of its soldiers, and the remembering of its victims.

The sound of shot and cannon fire, the rebels’ yells, the cries of the wounded, the acrid smell of battle hanging on the survivors, the death, it was all there.

And so were the unnamed graves.

Nothing but a stone or an “unknown” cross to mark the final resting place of a life cut short.

Nothing to note which side garnered the allegiance of the buried below.

Nothing to tell of the final act that felled them.

Nothing to tell their mother, daughter, sister or wife.

Nothing.

And it angered me. No one who has ever fallen in uniform should be left with an epitaph of nothing.

Yet there are thousands upon thousands of those nothing graves scattered all across the battlefields of this land.

From the trails of the French and Indian Wars to the Revolutionary War to the great Civil War that nearly destroyed us, those fallen who are marked by nothing should most certainly be remembered for something.

And it is that, if for no other reason, that we should all take pause and pray this Memorial Day weekend.

Pause to reflect upon the thousands of nothings who gave their all for cause and country yet now lay eternally alone. Blue, gray, black, white, Native American it matters not. For all uniforms bleed red as their wounds deliver them to their nothing ends.

And pray that the hundreds of thousands in uniform today shall never find a nothing grave.

Wherever you may find yourself this Memorial Day, whatever you may have planned, please take but a moment to remember those who gave their all that we might have some, and a moment longer to give thanks and say a prayer for those still in harms way.

And the next time you see a man or woman in uniform, don’t be afraid to express just five simple words that mean so much: “Thank you for your service.”

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