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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day - words from a Civil War Veteran

In 1909 a Union Army officer named Philip Cheek published a history of the Sauk County Riflemen, another name for Company A of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, in which both he and my great-great-grandfather served. It was part of the famous "Iron Brigade." His words still deliver an impact.

My ancestor joined in 1861, at the age of 20, during the early and passionate recruitment campaigns that swept over even the rural areas of Wisconsin with their tidal wave of patriotism. Now a century has passed since he was wounded in the leg at Gainesville on the evening before the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. The account of that time, as his officer and fellow soldier Philip Cheek wrote it, haunt us yet, 100 years later.

"The regiment advanced in line of battle across a field. Soon we heard a rip-rip, but did not fully realize the situation until the boys began to fall. Philip Hoefer was the first one hit in our company. We finally reached the assignment. "Halt! Right dress! Ready! Aim! Fire!" and the old 6th gave a volley that awoke a cheer from the other three regiments and a corresponding yell from the other side. And that yell. There is nothing like it this side of the infernal region and the peculiar corkscrew sensation that it sends down your backbone under these circumstances can never be told. You have to feel it, and if you say you did not feel it and hear the yell you have never been there."

Most of us have never been there. We may hear of, but cannot truly know the particular horrors of war. The weapons and technology may have changed in the past century, but mankind has not. When we see the flag waving in Tacoma and elsewhere on this Veterans Day, remember all those brave Americans who have fought for our country and still are fighting today. A great many of them have experienced these sensations, and worse. May all those of us who "have never been there," remember to offer our heartfelt respect and gratitude to all the veterans being honored today, as well as the active-duty soldiers still risking their lives. We know they will not all come home.

Here is how Cheek ended his book:

"No man liveth to himself alone. Not for themselves, but for their children, for those who may never hear of them in their nameless graves, have they yielded life ...

Blessed be their memory forever."

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