A Memorial Day remembrance
Writer’s note: Sometimes we need to stop and regard how we all are part of a bigger picture. –SP
After the chores were done on this quiet, beautifully sunny late spring day, I paid a little visit to my soldier buddy, Lafayette Rideout. He is just down the road from our little country place, Froggy Bottom. In a small country cemetery on a sandy ridgetop along a creek.
Lafayette, age 21 years 6 months, died July 25, 1864, at Fort Ethan Allen, Va. A member of Company K, 169th Ohio National Guard, I don’t know the circumstances of his death. Fort Ethan Allen was built by the Union Army for the defense of Washington, D.C., but it never saw hostile action. Maybe he had been brought there, wounded, or maybe he died of from one of the many infections and diseases that killed as casually and indiscriminately as bullets and artillery fire.
All else that I know about him is that his parents, William and Mary (“Wm and M.”), chiseled this on his monument 152 years ago: “Many bright hopes lie buried here.”
Lafayette’s is one of the oldest graves in the little cemetery, which dates to the 1830s, when the Great Black Swamp still lie just to the west. An impossibly huge, ancient, white cedar towers over his stone and dominates the low ridgetop, which overlooks the main stem of the creek at its confluence with its short north branch, the one the flows through my place.
Over the decades, woodchucks had dug up very old graves, vandals had broken off stones, the fencing rusted and the posts rotted; in short the little cemetery fell into disrepair. But thanks to a grant from the Ottawa Sandusky Seneca Solid Waste District, the cemetery was repaired and restored. It was a fitting act of conservation in a different sense.
What I do know is that Lafayette was one of more than 1.35 million Americans who have died for this country since its founding, and I want to be sure he is not forgotten. It is easy enough to be forgotten when you have been at rest in a little, quiet place for 152 years. I had carried with me a small flag for his stone, but, happily, the cemetery keepers made sure that the handful of fallen vets buried there were remembered, at least to that extent. Unlike at more prominent places, this little cemetery, doubtless like so many thousands of others, had no formal ceremony of remembrance today.
In the 42 years of my residence in this rural countryside, I have stopped to visit Lafayette many times. Each time I wonder about him, about the big questions, about the unvarnished mass insanity that is war. It is so hard and slow to build, so quick and easy to destroy. When will we ever learn? Will we learn in time? I gently touch the sun-warmed stone of the monument, hoping somehow to connect, to absorb some unspoken, undecipherable wisdom and hoping somehow it one day will dawn on me.
My fond wish is that all men and women who have died defending this experiment called America are remembered today. I cannot remember them all; it is just too much a task. But I can remember one, Lafayette Rideout.
With more than 322 million of us Americans now, there are plenty enough of us for each to remember just one. So none will be forgotten.