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Monday, May 27, 2013

Some Gave All - My Confederate Soldier

Twenty-five years or so ago, my mom presented me with a family heirloom.  Though we’re not exactly sure when it was built, we believe it was crafted in the early 1700s, or perhaps maybe even a little earlier.  It’s a beautiful blanket chest with two drawers along the bottom.  Constructed with the dovetail technique, it is complete with a little “secret compartment” inside.  Legend has it that early on the tradition was begun that the chest would be passed along to the youngest daughter of each generation.  As my good fortune would have it, I have fallen into that lineage.  When my grandmother received it, it was in a sad state of disrepair, and spent many years in storage.  My mom wasn’t that interested in restoring it for herself, but because I was fascinated with it from a young age, she surprised me, and had it restored for me.  The tradition is safe for two more generations following me, as I have a daughter, and she also has a daughter.  I hope that when I’m gone, they will both love the chest (and its heritage) as much as me. 

When my grandmother inherited the chest, inside the “secret compartment” were found some brittle hand-written letters, a Bible, and some kind of medical booklet.  The letters are fascinating.  They were written using the quill-and-ink method, and the characters were written in a very fancy font.  The spelling, grammar, and punctuation were atrocious (leave it to the Grammar Nazi to notice that), but the document was pleasing to the eye, what with the fancy font.  Tattered and worn, some of the words were illegible, and the paper so fragile that we only took them out on one or two occasions that I remember.

The letters were written by an ancestor, a confederate soldier in the Civil War – the son of the woman who was, at that time, in possession of the blanket chest. She kept them all tucked safely inside the secret compartment, and I like to imagine she would read them each day, perhaps holding them close to her heart, burying her face into the folds, washing the ink with her tears.  There is no love and devotion like that of a mother, and this we know - the mother of a soldier in battle fights her own war with fear and dread every second of every day until her child is safely home.  The letters told about “hiding from the damn Yankees” in a ditch, and about drinking bootleg whiskey smuggled in by another soldier.  He spoke of his love for her, his siblings, and his home, and longed for the day that the war would be over, and he would be reunited with them.

One day the dreaded news arrived that he had been wounded in battle.  His mother, weak and frail from having delivered a baby just a few weeks earlier, was determined to go to him.  When she found the name of the hospital where he was being treated, she persuaded someone to drive her in a wagon to be by his side.  (I always think of the scene in Gone With the Wind of Mellie and baby Beau in the wagon fleeing Atlanta as it burned.)  Their journey lasted for days, but finally they reached the hospital.  Only to learn that her son had died a day or two before. How tragic a loss! 

Our family has been very fortunate with regard to KIA losses during my lifetime, which must also include my dad’s stent during the Korean War.  Though obviously before my lifetime, I wouldn't even be here without his return from duty.  There have been many conflicts and battles since then, and countless soldiers have died in distant lands, far from the arms of their loved ones... but thankfully my family has been spared from death or injury.  That is somewhat miraculous, considering the roll call of soldiers among us.  My dad Luther Carroll, my brother Michael, Uncle Bill, Uncle Billy P, Uncle Gene, Uncle Billy W, and Uncle Ricky.  So very thankful for their service and their safety!!

There are so many others, though, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom – standing tall on the Lexington Green in Massachusetts, shivering in the snow on a cold German country road, on a ship in Pearl Harbor, landing on the beach at Normandy, crawling through a rice paddy in Viet Nam, or in the hot desert sands of the middle east.

This is the only story of battle casualty in my family that I know for sure, though.  Today I’d like to honor the memory and the life of that young soldier, my ancestor, hardly more than a boy himself, who hid from the Yankees and drank bootleg whiskey.  His blood stained the dirt of a country divided, and he gave his all. 

Today we honor those who gave all. We remember the fallen.  Those who are buried in a foreign grave, or who returned home in a flag-draped box, or whose bones lie unmarked and forgotten, here on our own soil, or in faraway lands.

Memorial Day 2013.  Hopefully, for a while yet, Freedom Will Ring throughout the land.  But it comes at a very high cost.  Thank You, God, for those willing to pay the cost.  As we enjoy a holiday filled with parties and barbecues, may we never, EVER forget the lives lost, the families ripped apart, all in the name of purchasing and securing our Freedom. 

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