Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

“I hope that on Memorial Day when people think about our soldiers, they won’t just think about the ones who died—they’ll think about those who came back different,” said the woman caller.

Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point, probed gently, asking if there was anyone specific the woman had in mind.

“My husband. He came back from Iraq, and…he’s different. Because of what he saw…and went through,” she struggled with the words.

On Memorial Day, we pause and remember the dead. But that’s not enough. A count of headstones does not include all those who sacrifice for our nation. Some die on the battlefield or in hospitals far from home. But others return marred, scarred, and changed: never the men (or women) they once were. They, too, give their all.

Take Arthur Middleton, for example. In 1776, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. A Cambridge graduate, he was more radical than his father, Henry, who served as the second President of the Continental Congress, and thus the leader of what was to become the United States from Oct. 22, 1774 to May 10, 1775.

Arthur’s attitude toward Loyalists was said to be ruthless. When he pledged his life, his liberty and his sacred honor, he meant exactly that. In 1781, Charleston, South Carolina, was overrun by General Clinton and the British army. Arthur Middleton was asked to swear a new loyalty oath. In John Jakes’ bestseller Charleston, he writes, “Many important names—Middleton, Pinckney, Manigault, Hayne—obliged.”

Jakes has it wrong. Very, very, badly wrong.

Arthur Middleton refused. So did Pinckney.

Middleton taken prisoner, thrown onto a British warship and taken to a jail in St. Augustine, Florida. There in a small coquina cell, with vaulted ceiling and wet walls, he carved his name—a twin to the bold signature on the Declaration of Independence. He was held more than a year before he was exchanged in a prisoner swap. By then, most of his fortune was gone.

He died at age 44, about four years later. The legend beneath his portrait in the Charleston Museum, suggests he died of an illness contracted while in prison, which possibly would have been malaria.

Arthur Middleton is buried at his family home Middleton Place. To see it go to Or rent The Patriot (Mel Gibson), and you’ll see footage of the gardens and the house’s interior.

So Middleton did not die on a battlefield, but he gave his life in service to our country. As the caller to On Point suggested, on Memorial Day we need to remember all those who have served, both living and dead.

Today as we put up our flag, I said a prayer thanking all the soldiers and patriots in my family, including my ancestor Arthur Middleton.


Joe Moore said...

What a touching message. Very moving. My wife and I attended a city Memorial Day observance today in which a major general spoke and handed out special coins to all the veterans in attendance. They spanned the wars from the WWII to a young man who had just returned from Iraq. It was through teary eyes that we all paid tribute to those that scarified so we could enjoy that assembly today without any fear of oppression or loss of liberties. Let’s hope the war is over soon and we can all celebrate the return of our brave fellow patriots.

Mark Terry said...

I dedicated part of my first book, "Catfish Guru" to my parents, and used a quote by John Adams:

"Teach them politics and war so their sons may study medicine and mathematics in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, and architecture."

My father fought in World War II, serving in the Navy on the USS Shangri-La, an aircraft carrier. His father served in World War I as a motorcycle courier between the front lines and the General Staff. My father-in-law joined the Army during peace-time after Korea and before Vietnam.

I am lucky--and regularly thankful--that my brother and I were of an age where we didn't have to serve. If we had chosen to, good, but neither of us had. If my sons decide to join the military, that will be their decision, and an honorable one it is. But I hope they will never be in a war.

I'm very thankful for all those who have fought in wars for us. It's important that those wars are for something--so their children can have the fruits--whatever they are--of their patriotism and dedication.

'nuff said.

Candy Calvert said...

Wonderful and inspiring post, Joanna. My recent first visit to Washington DC (for Malice) served to make this year's observance of Memorial Day especially meaningful
--seeing Arlington Cemetery, the WWII, Korean and Viet Nam memorials was a profound experience.

We are blessed, indeed.


Mark Combes said...

Joanna, thank you for this. I have a friend that when he meets a service man or woman on the street or at an airport, he thanks them for their service. I've started doing it too. Everyday is Memorial Day.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words.

I had an epiphany the other day. We were trying to contain costs for Sisters in Crime's Forensic University--I'm a co-chair--and we asked the owner of the local shooting gallery if we could "lock in" the price of ammunition.

He said no.

The reason?

All the ammo going to Iraq has caused a shortage.

I get teary-eyed thinking of it. I mean, I still say my prayers at night like the good little Episcopalian I was brought up to be, and I always used to thank God that we weren't at war.

But we are.

The absence of images of caskets lulls us into a sense of blithe ignorance. I read the list of names of the dead. I note the ages. I look over at my seventeen-year-old son.

And I get sick at my stomach.

Yes, there's a high price for freedom. But meanwhile, we must all do our part as good citizens, as caretakers of the inherited nation we enjoy, and we must let our voices be heard. Even if you and I disagree, we owe it to all those who've gone before to speak our minds. This nation was built by citizen politicans, and each of us needs to take seriously our responsibility to keep the will of the citizenry uppermost in the minds of our leaders. carried away.