On Tuesday, Veteran's Day, I did a lot of things that would help me remember the people who served for our country. I went to the USS Constitution (War of 1812), I visited the USS Cassis Young (World War II), I visited a Korean war memorial and incidentally found myself in attendance at a memorial service, I even walked half of the Freedom Trail (Revolutionary War) and saw a memorial dedicated to those soldiers who lost their lives in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I will show pictures from those things in another post.
I want to focus this post on the site that helped bring the other sites into context and left what I hope is a permanent impression. That site is Bunker Hill.
Perhaps it is no surprise to any of you if I were to tell you that I am a pacifist by nature. I don't like war. I ache when I think about the families on both sides that give up their loved ones and the men and women who give their service and time and even lives. I long have felt that the politics of war are beyond the lay person's experience and motivation for fighting. Was the Civil War about slavery? Yes, ultimately, it came down to an issue about social and economic factors that centered around slavery. But do I think that an 18 year old farmboy off to fight for his side did so because of his ideologies about slavery? Some did, even many perhaps. But I often think that the things those boys and men thought about on the front lines were their loved ones and the hope that fighting these battles and defending their side would protect those they were closest to. This thinking could clearly be wrong - I'm no history expert. Suffice it to say that while I think war can be necessary and I'm grateful to live in a country that values the freedoms of its citizens to choose for themselves their course for their life, I often wonder, was this the only way?
While at Bunker Hill, as I wandered the grounds and read that the colonists stayed up all night digging a redoubt on the hill and then fought all the next day, I couldn't help but imagine what that must of been like. The western world's most powerful army was descending on Charlestown with their thousands. If such a force were to come down upon me in my homeland, I'm sure I'd be besides them, digging for my life and for my family. I'd be digging even when the exhaustion set in and my arms burned and my eyes stung and my back was thrown out. I'd dig and dig and dig, wishing that the digging would make the fear lessen, would help ensure victory and with victory, safety.
Mesmerized, my eyes scanned that hill, wishing that I could see what that had really been like. Instead, I could only read the accounts of it. The untrained colonists panicked when the first casualty was a beheading by cannonball. The Americans bravely fought off the British for two attacks but succumbed on the third from lack of ammunition, exhaustion and no bayonets. The Americans in their very hasty retreat made a point to gather and carry with them all of their wounded. The British lamented their losses. It was a hill "too dearly bought" by the blood of 1000 British soldiers.
It was a decisive battle, pivotal in unifying the patriot cause. Over a hundred years after this battle, women raised money to put up a monument to honor the men who defended and died here. By this time, no one who had personally witnessed the battle was alive. The people raising the funds and gathered for the dedication had heard about that battle perhaps through word of mouth, stories that passed down through generations. These were their children's children wishing to pass on the stories and the memories to future generations. Climbing that monument is not easy; I imagined the women in their skirts and petticoats climbing and climbing in the heat of the summer. Climbing until they reached the top, where they paused and looked out on Boston, on the shores of the Mystic River and on the shores of the Charles. Climbing back down, on now shaky legs, I put my head down. War is hard for me. But truly, truly I am grateful. Grateful for those who have served, who, even if they knew little about the ideologies, thought their loved ones worth giving their lives for. Grateful for those who knew much about the ideologies and felt that giving their lives was worth it to secure a life for their loved ones that they felt would benefit them. Bunker Hill put everything else I saw on Tuesday into this perspective.
So, thank you, all of you who fought in wars and combats. I am grateful for your service and your sacrifice.