Beanery Online Literary Magazine

May 29, 2011

Memorial Day 2011



Joe F. Stierheim

     The last Monday in May is the day set aside to remember those who died in the wars in which this nation has taken part. It is also for honoring the many others who survived those wars but gave of themselves to one degree or another when it was required of them.

I remember when I was young being introduced to relics and souvenirs of past wars. There were campaign ribbons and medals from the Civil War and photos of my relatives that had taken part in that struggle. World War I contributed canteens, knapsacks and an ammunition belt. My cousins had helmets from that war—French, German and American. We children made use of these articles when we played our war games in the woods and fields of our rural homes.

When I married many years later, I found that my wife’s family had a collection of Civil War souvenirs, too—photos, letters, documents and a few odds and ends. These interested me because I found that some of them were souvenirs from another army. Her family had relatives that had fought for the Confederacy. One of my wife’s ancestors, a woman, had been an unofficial sniper for the Confederacy at the battle of Fredericksburg, Maryland.

Finding that out took me back to a Memorial Day in the 1930’s when I, as a young boy, attended memorial services held outside our church. One gentleman from our community was the owner of a small store that dealt in guns and ammunition, work clothes, candy, gasoline, and a number of other items. He also gave haircuts at the back of his store at a barber’s chair located beside the equipment he used to repair harness. I was in that chair many times for the haircut he gave for a twenty-five cent fee. He surprised me by showing up at the memorial service in his World War I uniform. That uniform, I recall, bore a goodly number of campaign ribbons.

I had never thought of this mild mannered and talented man as being a soldier. He had an accent, a fact I’d never thought much about, until I later learned that he was an immigrant from Germany that had come to this country as a boy before the war. While he had served in the US Army in that war, his brother, who had stayed in the old country, had fought for Germany.

I found out in later years about the way people of German ancestry in the US were treated during the days of World War I. I often wondered if that gentleman from our community, who had apparently so capably served his adopted country in war, was similarly treated. I wondered, too, about his brother in Germany. How did it feel for them to be on opposite sides in such a terrible, deadly action? I also thought about the more likely prospect of such a situation occurring during the Civil War. I have heard that there were instances of brothers or close relatives meeting as members of opposing armies on fields of battle in that war.

It is very convenient to be able to hate the enemy. The less human they seem, the easier it is to kill them. But what do you do when the person wearing the other uniform is your brother?

 What we have on either side in any conflict are simply people, people with differing ideas to be sure, but simply people. I heard a reading that made an impression on me on one of my infrequent visits to a synagogue. I am not at all familiar with Jewish texts but as I remember this particular one came from the time of the flight from Egypt. In it the writer lamented the death of all those on both sides of the conflict, saying that it was a tragedy that so many should have to die to correct a wrong.

That sentiment, acknowledging and lamenting the deaths of all the people involved in any conflict, seems to me to be a good way to approach a Memorial Day.



Memorial Day Readings on Military Men


Strand of Old Glory

Shepherds of Buchenwald

Black Sea Express


  1. There is a monument on Okinawa that honors all who were killed there during WW II – not just the soldiers of the two opposing armies but also the civilians.

    Comment by Cynthia Lipsius — June 27, 2011 @ 7:09 am | Reply

  2. Tanks for the info,Sis. Carolyn

    Comment by beanerywriters — June 28, 2011 @ 12:19 am | Reply

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