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Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

     A dirt mound topped by an urn. A simple memorial built with their own hands.
     
This is what the farmers of Hartford, New York could afford to memorialize their sons who did not come home from the Civil War.
   
 Across the street is only Civil War recruitment building still standing in New York; stepping into the street and snapping a photo would still take you back to 1860s and 70s.
   
 It is much unchanged today, in the gentle, rolling hills near where I live, just a hundred and fifty miles south of the Canadian border. Except for the ‘Stars and Bars’ snapping profanely and contemptuously in the breeze down the road.
*****
     
The holiday we now know as Memorial Day
started in 1968 as ‘Decoration Day’, when a general order was issued designating May 30, 1868, “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.” When Congress passed a law formally recognizing the last Monday in May as the day of national celebration, we effectively got our three-day weekend and our de facto beginning of summer.
     
This Memorial Day I am reminded of the many World War II veterans I interviewed who still remembered the Civil War veterans of their own youth. So I share a reminiscence from the late historian Bruce Catton, and highly recommend this compilation of his work to reflect on what it all meant. Here are the Civil War veterans of his youth, remembering their friends, in Michigan, who did not return home. Have a contemplative holiday. MR
*****
Underneath the Lilacs
One of the most pleasant holidays of the year was Memorial Day, universally known then as Decoration Day because it was the day when you went out to the cemetery and decorated graves. This day, of course, belonged to the Civil War veterans, although as years passed, it more and more became a day to put flowers on the grave of any loved one who had died, and when it came, just about everyone in town went to the cemetery with a basket of lilacs. Lilacs grow like weeds in our part of the country, and most farmers planted a long row of lilacs as windbreaks around their houses; in town, almost every house had lilacs in the yard, and in late May, the scent of them lay on the breeze. To this day, I never see lilac blossoms without remembering those Decoration Day observances of long ago.

The Civil War veterans were men set apart.
On formal occasions, they wore blue uniforms with brass buttons and black campaign hats, by the time I knew them, most had long gray beards, and whatever they may have been as young men they had an unassuming natural dignity in old age. They were pillars, not so much of the church (although most of them were devout communicants) as of the community; the keepers of its patriotic traditions, the living embodiment, so to speak, of what it most deeply believed about the nation’s greatness and high destiny. They gave an especial flavor to the life of the village. Years ago they had marched thousands of miles to legendary battlefields, and although they had lived half a century since then in our quiet backwater all anyone ever thought of was that they had once gone to the ends of the earth and seen beyond the farthest horizon. There was something faintly pathetic about these lonely old men who lived so completely in the past that they had come to see the war of their youth as a kind of lost golden age, but as small boys, we never saw the pathos. We looked at these men in blue, existing in pensioned security, honored and respected by all, moving past the mounded graves with their little flags and their heaps of lilacs, and we were in awe of them. Those terrible names out of the history books – Gettysburg, Shiloh, Stone’s River, Cold Harbor – came alive through these men. They had been there. And now they stood by the G.A.R. monument in the cemetery and listened to the orations and the prayers and the patriotic songs, and to watch them was to be deeply moved.

The G.A.R., of course, was the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization of those days. The Benzonia [Michigan] local of this organization was officially the E. P. Case Post Number 372, and it had been named for Edward Payson Case, a Benzonia man who died in 1886, a year before the post was organized. He must have been quite a man; he had enlisted in 1864, in the artillery, and his unit had been sent to Cumberland Gap on garrison duty and had finished out the war there, never getting into combat. Almost to a man, our G.A.R. members had been in violent action during the war, and they never would have named the local post after a noncombat soldier if he had not been an impressive sort of person. The monument they built, sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s, was completely homemade. It was a fat column of field stone and mortar, no more than four or five feet tall, capped by a round slab of rock that was just a little wider than the supporting column; it looks like an overgrown toadstool, and it would be funny if it were not so unmistakably the work of men who were determined to have a monument and built one with their own hands because they could not pay for a professional job. The spirit that built it redeems it; it stands today as the most eloquent, heart-warming Civil War memorial I ever saw.

I remember the G.A.R. men as a group, rather than as individuals, although a few do stand out. There was Elihu Linkletter, a retired minister when I knew him, who had lost his left arm in the Wilderness. I never looked at him without thinking (in bemused small-boy fashion) how proud he must be to carry this visible sign of his sacrifice for all to see. Mr. Linkletter was devoted to birds, and he waged unceasing war on red squirrels because they robbed birds’ nests and ate fledglings. He used to tramp about with a .22 rifle, shooting every red squirrel he saw; he could use it one-handed and he was a remarkably good marksman with it.

There was John Van Deman, who once told me how he had been wounded in some battle in West Virginia; like all the other veterans he pronounced “wounded” to rhyme with “sounded,” which somehow made it more impressive. There was Lyman Judson, who had served in the cavalry under Phil Sheridan and who had been invalided out of the service when, his horse being shot out from under him, he had fallen heavily on the base of his spine so that he suffered thereafter from a weak back. Forty-five years later, in Benzonia, he slipped on the ice and again fell heavily on the base of his spine. In some unaccountable way, this cured him, and for the rest of his life, his back was as sound and as pain-free as anyone’s.

And there was Cassius Judson (no relation) who in 1916 went down to Manistee to see [the first ever motion picture film] The Birth of a Nation. When he got back, I asked him if he had not been impressed by the picture’s portrayal of the Battle of Atlanta. Mr. Judson, who had been in that battle personally, smiled faintly and said: “Well, it wasn’t much like the real thing.”

Then, finally, there was John Morrow, who had been an infantryman in an Ohio regiment and who had once exchanged words with General William T. Sherman himself. (“Exchanged” probably is not the word, because Sherman did all of the talking.) Anyway, during the Atlanta campaign Morrow and some comrades were out on patrol, and they came to a stream where there was a grassy bank with trees to cast a pleasant shade, and the day was mortally hot, and so they all stacked arms and stretched out for a breather. Just then, Sherman and some of his staff rode up, and Sherman came over to find out what these soldiers were doing. When he found out, as Morrow remembered it, he “used language that would make a mule driver blush” and in no time, the boys were back on patrol in the hot sun. They did not hold this against General Sherman, figuring that it was just part of the fortunes of war.

By the time I knew them, these veterans were in their seventies, or very close to it, and a hale and hearty lot they were. There was one man, whose name I do not remember, who lived on a farm a few miles south of town. He had fought at Gettysburg, and in 1913, there was a big fiftieth-anniversary celebration of that battle, with surviving veterans invited to attend. This old chap went to Gettysburg, enjoyed the three days’ activities, and then came home by train, and when he finished the trip, at Beulah, he found that the friend who was to have met him with a buggy to drive him out to his farm had somehow failed to make it. Quite undaunted, the seventy-year-old veteran picked up his carpetbag and hiked the five miles home. He could see nothing remarkable in this because he had had many worse hikes during the war.

In their final years, the G.A.R. men quietly faded away. Their story had been told and retold, affectionate tolerance was beginning to take the place of respectful awe, and in Europe, there was a new war that by its sheer incomprehensible magnitude seemed to dwarf that earlier war we knew so well. One by one, the old men went up to that sun-swept hilltop to sleep beneath the lilacs, and as they departed, we began to lose more than we knew we were losing. For these old soldiers, simply by existing, had unfailingly expressed the faith we lived by; not merely a faith learned in church, but something that shaped us as we grew up. We could hardly have put it into words, and it would not have occurred to us to try, but we oriented our lives to it, and if disorientation lay ahead of us, it would come very hard. It was a faith in the continuity of human experience, in the progress of the nation toward an ideal, in the ability of men to come triumphantly through any challenge. That faith lived, and we lived by it.

Now it is under the lilacs.

Excerpt from Catton, Bruce. Bruce Catton’s America. New Word City, Inc., 2017.

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Blair Williams grave by Vincent Heggen, 2017. Netherlands American Cemetery.

Here in the United States, Memorial Day will be upon us soon.

In interviewing WW II veterans over the years, I found that most whom I was privileged to know shied away from honors and recognition on Memorial Day.  I was reminded of the sacrifices that the veterans made, again and again, but they all told me that the real heroes were the ones that did not come home. And that Memorial Day was the day reserved for THEM; contrary to popular American opinion, it’s not another Veterans Day. But this weekend we tip our hat to the veterans among us, and post that ‘salute to the troops’, thank them for their service, and we are free to start our summer vacation. Did we just give ourselves some kind of pass?

The holiday known originally as “Decoration Day” originated at the end of the Civil War when a general order was issued designating May 30, 1868, “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.” When Congress passed a law formally recognizing the last Monday in May as the day of national remembrance, we effectively got our three-day weekend and our de facto beginning of summer. But do we really want to know?  If we do, maybe we can take the time to seek out one of those who fell on those faraway fields, and think about what it means on a personal level, try to find out more about a life that was cut short. Here are a few to think about.

***

Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, USA. Credit: J M Schumann

This is Marvin Boller. His remains did make it home. A Thanksgiving letter written  to him did not. The backstory:

In writing my second book, I revisited a horrific incident that occurred in the earliest days of American penetration onto enemy soil in Germany.  Resistance was stiff; on a cold and rainy day before Thanksgiving, 1944, 3 tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion’s ‘D’ Company were wiped out in a muddy apple orchard a few miles across the river.

In 2012, I was alerted to the existence of this WWII era letter in a memorial museum in Belgium. The envelope was postmarked Nov. 27, 1944, and addressed from the USA to PFC Marvin K. Boller, D Co., 743rd Tank Battalion. It was also stamped ‘DECEASED’.

Vince Heggen, who tends graves of the men who were killed with Martin, posted this for Memorial Day:

 Co D 743rd Tank Bn was moving from Langendorf to Erberich in November, 1944. It kept raining the whole day before they arrived in the orchards near Erberich. It was 8h20 when a German tank opened fire and knocked out 3 light tanks… All the crews were killed and a few of them are buried at the cemetery of Margraten. The letter, in front of the graves , was written by Marvin Boller’s wife. Marvin was killed just the day before Thanksgiving and the letter was marked ‘return to sender’.  The letter made the link between the crew members of Marvin’s tank  buried here, and Marvin who was buried [elsewhere].

Frank McWilliams grave by Vincent Heggen, 2017. Netherlands American Cemetery.

 

{You can read a Washington Post article:

Americans gave their lives to defeat the Nazis. The Dutch have never forgotten.}

 

I wrote to Carrol Walsh, a liberator of the train near Magdeburg and a fellow member of Company D, and asked if he knew Boller; I also sent him this image of the envelope.

He wrote back:

‘Hi Matt, I was stunned when I read your message. I remember Boller very well and remember when he got killed.  I believe it was just before Thanksgiving 1944 when a big German tank wiped out three tanks of the first platoon of Co. D of the 743rd. Every member of every crew of every one of the tanks was killed.  I seem to remember packages arriving for some of these guys after they had been killed.  I used to tease Boller, who was an older man, because he wanted to vote for Tom Dewey and I was big for my pal, FDR.  Boy what a memory you stirred up.  I knew all the guys that got killed in that engagement.’

Walsh and others would survive and go on to liberate Holocaust survivors on April 13th, 1945. And the letter has never been opened.

I did not know you, I don’t know if anyone is alive who knew you, but you are not forgotten.

 

 

MARVIN K. BOLLER

PFC, 743 TANK BN WORLD WAR II

Birth: Oct. 9, 1908
Death: Nov. 22, 1944

More can also be seen here.

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How soon we forget. Or perhaps, we were never told. That is understandable, given what they saw.

But, it happened. Many of the boys never came home.

And that, dear reader, is why we can’t afford to forget.

You can read the reviews, but my favorite commentary on my first book was not written or published. A dear friend told me that one of her close relatives read the book, and that she had cried all the way through it. She finally realized what her father had seen, and gone through, and the friends that he had lost.

And it helped her make sense of her own life.

Just because the shooting stopped, it did not mean that the war ended. In many ways, it still lives on. And I hope that this book takes a step in the healing process. The book is a catharsis, for both the veterans and their families. But more importantly, it’s a way to honor and remember those who did not return home. The veterans are leaving us, and it is up to us to remember. For own own sakes, as much as theirs.

You can get the book here at Amazon, in print and electronic format. For signed copies, you can go here.

I have more books on the way, if you care to sign up for advance notification.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by, and for being one of those who appreciates that Memorial Day as more than just the de facto start of summer. Hit a ‘SHARE’ button below if you think someone else will appreciate it.

Matthew Rozell

Author, teacher of young people, and blogger on things that matter.

 

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Here in the United States, Memorial Day will be upon us soon.

In researching for my upcoming book on the liberation of the train, I are reminded of the sacrifices of the soldiers, again and again. Right now I’m revisiting a horrific incident that occurred just across Hitler’s “West Wall”, the so-called Dragon’s Teeth that formed the three-mile deep defensive fortifications that our troops had to cross to enter German soil.  Resistance was stiff; on a cold and rainy day before Thanksgiving, 1944, several tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion’s ‘D’ Company were wiped out in a muddy apple orchard a few miles across the border.

boller envelope

Letter to Marvin Boller postmarked 5 days after his death. It remains unopened in a museum in Belgium. Thanks to Vincent Heggen, the curator.

In 2012, I was alerted to the existence of an unopened WWII era letter in a memorial museum in Belgium. The envelope was postmarked Nov. 27, 1944, and addressed from the USA to PFC Marvin K. Boller, D Co., 743rd Tank Battalion. It was also stamped ‘DECEASED’. I wrote to Carrol Walsh, a liberator of the train near Magdeburg and a fellow member of Company D, and asked if he knew Boller; I also sent him this image of the envelope. He wrote back:

‘Hi Matt, I was stunned when I read your message. I remember Boller very well and remember when he got killed.  I believe it was just before Thanksgiving 1944 when a big German tank wiped out four tanks of the first platoon of Co. D of the 743rd. Every member of every crew of every one of the four tanks was killed.  I seem to remember packages arriving for some of these guys after they had been killed.  I used to tease Boller, who was an older man, because he wanted to vote for Tom Dewey and I was big for my pal, FDR.  Boy what a memory you stirred up.  I knew all the guys that got killed in that engagement.’

Walsh and others would survive and go on to liberate Holocaust survivors on April 13th, 1945.

So here is a tribute to Marvin Boller, and all who fell. His body was returned to the United States. Rest on.

Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, USA. Credit: J M Schumann

 

MARVIN K. BOLLER

PFC, 743 TANK BN WORLD WAR II

Birth: Oct. 9, 1908
Death: Nov. 22, 1944

More can also be seen here.

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In 2003, I set out to interview a retiree living on the quiet boulevard leading up to our high school. I sat on his backporch with him for a few hours on a late spring afternoon. Born in 1922, he was in the Navy, serving as a radioman on a destroyer escort, and he seemed to be everywhere in the Pacific during World War II. Like John A. Leary, he also spent a great deal of time supporting the Marines, and saw his first action in the South Pacific in the reduction of the massive Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain.

Mr. Peachman turned 93 this past March. He was my high school history teacher.

 

Alvin Peachman

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

 

 

You can view a book preview at the Amazon site. Available in digital and paperback format. Book can also be purchased at http://matthewrozell.com/order-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

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 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  270 pages.

About the Author: Matthew Rozell’s teaching career is now spanning 4 decades, beginning as a quiet kid returning to teach in his own hometown to being recognized as a national History Teacher of the Year and as a recipient of a national Medal for History Education. Rozell is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow, has had his lessons filmed for NBC Learn, and has even been chosen as the ABC World News Person of the Week. He is also a recipient of several state and local awards for history education. He writes on the power of teaching and the importance of the study of history at his website,teachinghistorymatters.com.

He can be reached at marozell at gmail dot com.

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This story below is an excerpt from my first book. It was published for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

My friend Jimmy Butterfield used to come to my classroom with his bride of 60+ years, Mary. She would joke with him, and us, and call him by his high school nickname, “But”. Maybe it was “Butt”, I don’t know, but they had fun playing around with each other in front of 17 and 18 year olds.

Jimmy, of course, was blind and hard of hearing. Mary had to yell at him, he would crack a grin under the dark glasses and flirt with her. The girls loved it. When the hearing aide was cranked up to eleven, we would get some echo and feedback, which didn’t seem to bother him, or the students in the class listening to his story. He just liked to talk to the kids.

Several years ago, after the two of them and Danny Lawler (another First Marine Division veteran of really hard fighting in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa) came to my room for an afternoon, I came home to an email from one of my senior girls, telling me how meaningful meeting Jimmy and Mary and Danny was to her and her classmates. I still have it.

You see, Jim Butterfield got struck not once but twice in the head by enemy fire at Okinawa about this time in May  1945 (that is 70 years ago this month, if you are noticing). He was evacuated first to Guam, then to Hawaii and later stateside for over 18 months, and as many operations, for reconstructive surgery.  When he did realize that he would never see again,  he was ready to tell his high school sweetheart to leave him be. Not to get attached to him, a blind man.

Well, she told us what she thought of that. They ran a small mom and pop store back in Glens Falls together until they retired.

Why is Jim’s story important? Well, you’ll have to listen to him tell it. You have the sense of the unfolding realization of the loss he is feeling, but at the same time, wonderment at his and Mary’s resilience in making a successful life afterwards. The sacrifices made by this and other generations of veterans becomes real. We need to also note that Jim came home. Chappy and many others others did not.

Jim never looked for sympathy or pity- and of course would be the first to point out that Memorial Day is for those who did not return. But still, if we are to pause as a nation for one weekend to remember, we can’t forget what this nineteen year old from Hometown USA gave up as well.

Mary and Jim have since passed on. What obstacles they overcame together…

Rest on Jimmy and Mary. Thanks for letting us witness your story.

******************************************

From "The Things Our Fathers Saw" by Matthew Rozell.

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

 

Mary and Jim Butterfield Jan. 2007

Mary and Jim Butterfield in my classroom, Jan. 2007.

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Excerpted from “The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA“. Order the book here.

 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  292 pages.

 

 H

 

 

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This story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book. It will be out early this summer for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

My friend Jimmy Butterfield used to come to my classroom with his bride of 60+ years, Mary. She would joke with him, and us, and call him by his high school nickname, “But”. Maybe it was “Butt”, I don’t know, but they had fun playing around with each other in front of 17 and 18 year olds.

Jimmy, of course, was blind and hard of hearing. Mary had to yell at him, he would crack a grin under the dark glasses and flirt with her. The girls loved it. When the hearing aide was cranked up to eleven, we would get some echo and feedback, which didn’t seem to bother him, or the students in the class listening to his story. He just liked to talk to the kids.

Several years ago, after the two of them and Danny Lawler (another First Marine Division veteran of really hard fighting in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa) came to my room for an afternoon, I came home to an email from one of my senior girls, telling me how meaningful meeting Jimmy and Mary and Danny was to her and her classmates. I still have it.

You see, Jim Butterfield got struck not once but twice in the head by enemy fire at Okinawa about this time in May  1945 (that is 70 years ago this month, if you are noticing). He was evacuated first to Guam, then to Hawaii and later stateside for over 18 months, and as many operations, for reconstructive surgery.  When he did realize that he would never see again,  he was ready to tell his high school sweetheart to leave him be. Not to get attached to him, a blind man.

Well, she told us what she thought of that. They ran a small mom and pop store back in Glens Falls together until they retired.

Why is Jim’s story important? Well, you’ll have to listen to him tell it. You have the sense of the unfolding realization of the loss he is feeling, but at the same time, wonderment at his and Mary’s resilience in making a successful life afterwards. The sacrifices made by this and other generations of veterans becomes real. We need to also note that Jim came home. Chappy and many others others did not.

Jim never looked for sympathy or pity- and of course would be the first to point out that Memorial Day is for those who did not return. But still, if we are to pause as a nation for one weekend to remember, we can’t forget what this nineteen year old from Hometown USA gave up as well.

Mary passed a year and a half ago. Jim died at home last June. What obstacles they overcame together…

Rest on Jimmy and Mary. Thanks for letting us witness your story.

******************************************

From

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

Book can be purchased at http://matthewrozell.com/order-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

Mary and Jim Butterfield Jan. 2007

Mary and Jim Butterfield in my classroom, Jan. 2007.

*************************************************************

 

 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  292 pages.

 

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