Technically speaking, the word memorial means a record or a memoir. It also indicates something commemorative or that preserves a memory. For us, this weekend is specific to those who have served our country and who perished while doing so. It is a time for reflection and for respect.
While doing genealogical research, I discovered an important aspect to my mother’s paternal line. Much of her family came from Ireland during the hungry time in the mid 1800s. I was surprised to find my Scottish great, great grandfather had served in the Civil War and died of a gunshot wound…in New Orleans of all places. So what was a guy from Scotland via Albany, NY, doing fighting in New Orleans?
He was a member of the NY 131st Infantry, also known as the Metropolitan Guard. The unit was raised in New York City. New York City? But he lived in Albany. There is a great deal that is unknown about these circumstances. I will leave it at that. But his war records show the documentation of a wound sustained during the Port Hudson conflict. He was taken to University Hospital in New Orleans where he died almost two months later.
James Pringle was buried in a now defunct cemetery that was paved over to form Canal Boulevard in New Orleans. As far as I can learn, his remains were never reinterred elsewhere. Thus I am unable to pay my respects. At a time when our country is so divided, our past shows how divisiveness is destructive. There is no memorial to James Pringle to commemorate his 46 years of life.
When I was almost 11 years old, I visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It had a profound effect on me. I went to the library when I returned home and learned what I could about this tradition. The inscription touches my very soul. “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Is it glorious to die in battle? I have to think it’s pretty horrible but should respect anyone who has made that sacrifice.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is a lasting memorial to those who died while defending the rights and freedoms of our country. It is a tangible place to mourn our losses just as other numerous military cemeteries do. One of the most poignant to me is the American Cemetery in Normandy. So many boys were never able to come home. They reside for eternity in a beautiful place, interred in a country they fought to defend as allies.
John McRae, a Canadian poet and physician, penned his most famous poems “In Flanders Field” after the burial of one his friends. I will spare you the tedium of dissecting it but it is a blend of beauty and loss.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
It is ironic that this iconic doctor died of pneumonia just prior to the end of the war.
Preservation of our memorials is as important as our preservation of history. They mean something. They are part of us, like it or not. They speak for the dead.