I am, technically speaking, a daughter of the South—born and reared for the first twelve years of my life in Atlanta, Georgia. Amongst other things, including a Southern drawl that rivaled the best of them, I grew up with a true Southern take on the Civil War or the War Between the States. I was told repeatedly to save my Confederate money because the South would rise again.
To me, Sherman’s March to the Sea via Atlanta, wasn’t just a story. It was very real to me as I considered that he had burned my home city en route. I had visited numerous local historical spots made famous by the battle that essentially leveled this beautiful city. In addition, I was a somewhat frequent visitor at the Civil War Cyclorama in downtown Atlanta. Because it was on the top of my father’s “must-do” list for any visitor, I was able to go numerous times. Dad was smitten with it, in spite of the fact he was a transplanted Yankee from Michigan.
The Cyclorama, for those of you unfortunate Northerners who haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing it, is a huge circular oil painting and a diorama that so perfectly blends in with the painting that you can’t tell where the three-dimensional representation stops and the one dimensional starts. It graphically and vividly depicts the Battle of Atlanta on July 26, 1864. Music and sound and visual effects accompany the telling of the story as visitors are absolutely drawn into the scene as they sit on a rotating platform during the presentation.
Even now, many years later, I can still recall the smoke filling the room after we’d heard cannons firing. I can see the flashes of light and the flames being highlighted. But what I most vividly see is the bodies—the bodies of soldiers, both Confederate and Union, lying bloody, either dead or dying. Maybe it was at the Cyclorama that I first realized that war requires sacrifice—especially the sacrifice of human life. Now I know that those soldiers were someone’s son, father, husband, grandfather, uncle, brother, nephew, friend…and they had given everything they had and were in cause they believed in, regardless of whether they were wearing grey or blue uniforms.
Years after my last time visiting the Cyclorama, I watched a World War II movie that reminded me again of that very real and very sobering truth. In a stunning way, I realized anew that the fact that my father survived his 2 years on the front lines in the European theater was nothing short of God’s grace. Nearly 300,000 of those who served with Dad in World War II died as a result of injuries on the battle field.
War isn’t pretty—ever. It’s bloody and often very costly—especially in terms of human life. No war we’ve ever been involved with has been without American casualties. According to the government’s statistics, well over 650,000 armed services personnel have died as a result of battlefield injuries. These are the men and women who gave the last full measure of devotion.
Honoring these fallen heroes on Memorial Day, this Monday, May 26, is altogether fitting. Whether they were coerced, cajoled, drafted or volunteered, the bottom line is each of these men and women was on some battle field defending our freedom, our form of government, our national interests, when their lives ended.
This Memorial Day, while some of us may go to a ceremony or put some flowers on the grave of a veteran, other Wisconsin families will be observing it quite differently. For more than 127 Wisconsin families this coming Memorial Day will be different. They will be without their son or daughter who died in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Whether this is the twelfth such Memorial Day or the third such Memorial Day, it is certain that for these Wisconsin families Memorial Day will never be the same.
How fortunate I’ve been. I’ve never lost a loved one in battle, and I’ve never seen a battle first-hand. Like many of you, my experience regarding war has been from the safety and distance of such things as the Cyclorama, movies, books and news clips, which, while often very realistic and sometimes even real, still aren’t the real thing. This Memorial Day may we each recall that for some Americans war has been horribly real—the last real thing they ever knew. May we thank God for those who on some battlefield have sacrificed their all for us. May we pray, too, for the safety for those still standing in harm’s way on our behalf—those still willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.