Sunday, November 20, 2011

That We May Remember and Give Thanks

Due to our location of the Washington, D.C. South Mission, we've spent a fair amount of time on our weekly free day over the last few months visiting memorials...  monuments to heroes past. It has given us much to be thankful for. 

World War II Monument flag ceremony

This past week was no exception. When friends Duane and Shawnda Bishop came to town, we decided to take in the Veteran's Day ceremony at the stunning World War II Memorial on the Mall about halfway between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Aside from the fact that we nearly froze to death, it was a beautiful morning. It made me cry to see the World War II veterans being honored that day. They reminded me so much of my dad. He and my uncles who served in the war are all gone now. It's sad that so many WWII vets were too old or too infirm to feel our country's appreciation and visit the memorial by the time it was finished in 2004. We owe them all such a debt of gratitude.

World War II veterans with escorts
A veteran and a tribute

During the same weekend with the Bishops, we walked through Arlington National Cemetery once again. So many, many acres honoring war heroes and veterans from every conflict since the Civil War. I am always sobered as we pass Arlington on the way to our Crystal City classes each week. How do you wrap your mind around 612 acres of graves? It is fitting that over 4 million people come to pay their respects each year.

On this day, however, two scenes were permanently engraved on my heart. As we were walking between the Arlington House and the Tomb of the Unknown, we noticed an older man out in the middle of one of the large sections of headstones. He was sitting alone, on a little camp stool, next to a grave. His head was bowed and his hand held a white handkerchief. One can only imagine his pain, multiplied by hundreds of thousands....

From there, we walked quite a distance to the area of the cemetery where those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been buried. A funeral had just ended and a group of friends and relatives were still standing nearby. As we looked down the rows of graves, we were deeply touched by the little stones and mementos left on many of the graves by children. Reading the inscriptions on the headstones, we were reminded that in these conflicts, as in all wars, it is generally the young men who are taken because it is the young men who volunteer (or in some wars are drafted) to serve. Each one a son, a brother, a friend, and often a husband and a father. Arlington is now home to their final sacrifice for our freedom.

Our nation's capitol, the seat of our government.

The Iwo Jima Memorial

Honoring those who lost their lives on 9-11-2001
Just two days ago, we followed one last trail of heroes before we return home. It is something I have wanted to do since I was young, but we weren't sure we would have time to do it. Our mission president told us to go and have a good time, so we picked up Amy and all three of us took a day trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. What a great day! For those of you who have been to a Civil War battlefield, you know the profound sense of reverence and gratitude that attends a visit there. For those of you have haven't been there yet, go! when you can. We learned about the heroic men who fought for both the Confederate and the Union Armies during a troubled time in our country's history. I could write a page about the education and feelings we gained at Gettysburg, but suffice it to say that God guided those Union troops who put an end to slavery and knit this country back together. Our lives would not be the same without their dedication and courage and their willingness to sacrifice all for what they believed in.

Abe and friend

Meeting Confederate re-enactors from New York

Gettysburg National Military Park
Earlier this year, before we left on our mission, I learned that I have a 2nd great-grandfather who fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many in my dad's family already knew about it, but nobody ever told me! (So now I'm putting the word out to the rest of my Dana cousins....) When we visited the Manassas Battlefield just after we got here in August (it's only 8 miles from our townhouse), I had the opportunity to request some information on him from a Civil War records company. I received it in the mail a few months ago, but was too busy being a missionary to even open it up and take a look at it. 

Nathan Nye Coy
Now that we only have one last class to teach before we leave in a few days, I decided, following our trip to Gettysburg, it was time to take a look at the information I had been sent. Imagine my surprise when I read that the Shenandoah Valley battles that he fought in are only about an hour from where we live! Yesterday, we took a few hours and made a beeline for those battlefields. I felt like the movie stars whose ancestry is uncovered in Who Do You Think You Are on T.V.  It was so exciting!  I discovered that Nathan Nye Coy fought in some of the most decisive battles of the Civil War -- and he lived. I saw some of the places he saw. I walked a little of the ground he walked. I understood him a little bit better. And the Civil War became personal for me.

Visiting the site of the Third Battle of Winchester in Virginia

The Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, October 1864

Cedar Creek, Virginia, November 2011
There is a "spirit of place." It is a feeling that you get when you visit a place that has a history. Somehow that history comes alive when you are there. The time, the place, and the people become real.

I am so very grateful for the tender mercies that sent us to our mission in the very area where my great-great grandfather sacrificed so much. I'm glad I discovered that information before we left to return home! And I'm so grateful for the greater understanding that I have gained about the price of the freedom that we all enjoy. I will have much to give thanks for this Thanksgiving.                              ~Pat~

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