Honoring Heroes

This past Saturday I closed out my work detail—I hate using the word “work” to describe an opportunity to spend a few weeks being a ranger at a national military park–but I digress.

However, my last day coincided with assisting the park with the 20th annual luminary event at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Established in 1866, the national cemetery is the final resting place for 15,300 American soldiers. The large majority of the interred fought for the Union during the American Civil War.

This year’s topic was the home front and part of the ceremonies entailed featuring specific examples of the stories of the men buried on the hillside.

There individual stories struck a chord with me.

I recently wrote this post (click here to read) about the cost of the war.

The highest cost was 750,000 men killed.

Some of them buried less than 200 yards from where I was stationed on Memorial Day Weekend.

85% of the men buried on the hillside from the American Civil War lay in unknown graves.

Candles, honoring the soldiers buried in the national cemetery light one of the paths up to where the heroes are buried.

Candles, honoring the soldiers buried in the national cemetery light one of the paths up to where the heroes are buried.

However, all 100% are heroes.

In today’s world we throw around the word “hero” when talking about a sports player when he hits a game winning shot. Or to a lesser degree with movie stars and singers. That is acceptable in some degree.

But, aren’t the men who volunteered or later did not dodge the conscription act and who gave the ultimate sacrifice for a cause the ultimate heroes?

Some of these men had their whole lives ahead of them. Others had just recently arrived in the United States because it was the land of opportunity. And then there was Alexander Allison of the 96th Pennsylvania Regiment, who was killed at the Battle of Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign, who was one of four brothers that fought in the war.

All four were killed.

All four were heroes.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park historian Ryan Quint sums up why this commemoration on Memorial Day is so poignant:

“Telling a story like [Allison’s] on Memorial Day I think is especially pertinent–it’s not just a tale of one person’s sacrifice, but an entire family’s.”

The men buried at Fredericksburg National Cemetery were ordinary men, who gave something extraordinary, their very lives, in defense of the cause they believed in.

In my book, that is the true definition of a hero.

And that is why I hate to use the word “work” to describe being a park ranger at the luminary event at Fredericksburg National Cemetery this past Saturday. As I was merely honoring and remembering heroes who afforded me that opportunity.

Fredericksburg National Cemetery Luminary. Each lighted candle and bag is marking a grave.  Fredericksburg National Cemetery Luminary. Each lighted candle and bag marking a grave. Some of those graves contain the remains of multiple unknown soldiers. (Photo courtesy of Chris Mackowski)

Fredericksburg National Cemetery Luminary. Each lighted candle and bag is marking a grave.
Fredericksburg National Cemetery Luminary. Each lighted candle and bag marking a grave. Some of those graves contain the remains of multiple unknown soldiers.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Mackowski)

This entry was posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Emerging Civil War, Memory, National Park Service and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Honoring Heroes

  1. Chris Kolakowski says:

    For most of that cemetery’s existence (1866 to sometime in the mid 1990s), the number of men buried on that hill outnumbered the people who lived in the city limits of Fredericksburg.

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