On his Website, Mark Steyn reprints his essay on Memorial Day that first ran in The Chicago Sun-Times last year. Here’s a big chunk of it, but read the whole thing, as they say:
Before the First World War, it was called Decoration Day — a day for going to the cemetery and “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” Some decorated the resting places of fallen family members; others adopted for a day the graves of those who died too young to leave any descendants.
I wish we still did that. Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory” are difficult to hear in the din of the modern world, and one of the best ways to do it is to stand before an old headstone, read the name, and wonder at the young life compressed into those brute dates: 1840-1862. 1843-1864.
In my local cemetery, there’s a monument over three graves, forebears of my hardworking assistant, though I didn’t know that the time I first came across them. Turner Grant, his cousin John Gilbert and his sister’s fiance Charles Lovejoy had been friends since boyhood and all three enlisted on the same day. Charles died on March 5, 1863, Turner on March 6, and John on March 11. Nothing splendid or heroic. They were tentmates in Virginia, and there was an outbreak of measles in the camp.
For some reason, there was a bureaucratic mixup and the army neglected to inform the families. Then, on their final journey home, the bodies were taken off the train at the wrong town. It was a Saturday afternoon and the stationmaster didn’t want the caskets sitting there all weekend. So a man who knew where the Grants lived offered to take them up to the next town and drop them off on Sunday morning.
When he arrived, the family was at church, so he unloaded the coffins from his buggy and left without a word or a note to anyone. Imagine coming home from Sunday worship and finding three caskets waiting on the porch. Imagine being young Caroline Grant, and those caskets contain the bodies of your brother, your cousin and the man to whom you’re betrothed.
That’s a hell of a story behind the bald dates on three tombstones. If it happened today, maybe Caroline would be on Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric demanding proper compensation, and the truth about what happened, and why the politicians were covering it up. Maybe she’d form a group of victims’ families. Maybe she’d call for a special commission to establish whether the government did everything it could to prevent disease outbreaks at army camps. Maybe, when they got around to forming the commission, she’d be booing and chanting during the officials’ testimony, as several of the 9/11 families did during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s testimony.
All wars are messy, and many of them seem small and unworthy even at the moment of triumph. The sight of unkempt lice-infested Saddam Hussein yanked from his spider hole last December is not so very different from the published reports of Jefferson Davis