Memorial Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 25 May 2009 02:59
One last note this Memorial Day: This holiday was originally called Decoration Day - the day for decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. After World War I, it was expanded to include all Americans lost in battle of any war. And we keep adding, generation after generation, to the total of those who will be honored. Here is the haunting letter of Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah on the eve of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull run) in 1861 as featured in the moving segment from Ken Burn's Civil War series. The letter was not mailed until the war was over - long after he had died. The Ballou's had not been married long really. Less than 6 years. I've wandered the Manassas battlefield on a day well over 100 degrees, a day so hot that you were warned not to put gas in your car during the day and the National Park Service folks were told to stay inside the air conditioning. It was on that sort of July day that Sullivan Ballou died. Sarah Ballou never remarried. This story is being repeated over and over today, of course. Last month, I sat next to a very young man on his way to Afghanistan, who had just been married days before and wanted to talk. Gradually, as we talked, he told me what he did. He was a sniper - the first one in. He told me that he had been told, "never look the children in the eyes" and that they were right. He had already done one tour and was showing all the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, he had woken up a few nights previously with his hands around his new wife's throat. But as he told me, if the Army knew, they would not let him continue. And at that moment, our plane landed. All I could do was promise to pray for him. And I have. But it was like a terrible chasm opened before me as I saw, for the first time, what we were asking of these young men and women on our behalf. A tortured young man being put in a position where he may have to make the life and death decision to shoot children or lose his comrades - or his own life. I've just finished wading through the oceans of blood shed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so I'm not saying "just give peace a chance". It's never that simple. Beccause the end result of war or peace is made up of a incredible chain of events and decisions large and small that pile up until one day a young man plucked from peaceful obscurity is staring into a child's eyes with an automatic rifle in his hands. Today is a day for honoring and praying for the dead indeed. We would honor them more if we seriously attended to making peace in small ways today. And tomorrow.