Monday, May 30, 2016

Thoughts on Memorial Day, 2016

                                    Albert McTeer (September 23, 1920-June 25, 1943)

       Yesterday at Church, during Prayers of the People, I asked for names of those who had died in service to our country.  We remembered Albert McTeer, Alan Kohn from Columbia, and a member's two Citadel classmates. Today, Memorial Day, I find myself wanting to know more, particularly, about Albert McTeer  and, remembering at the same time, Jesus' words about counting the cost of what we undertake (Luke 14.28-32) .[1]   

        WW II cost the church family of St. James Santee,  the life of young Albert McTeer.    There is a memorial tablet to him in the Church, and it notes that he died on June 25, 1943 in North Africa.  He was a Morrison cousin which means he was related to about one half of the church membership.  Twenty-two years of age, he was a recent Clemson graduate.  His burial record (interred overseas) , photo and copy of his obituary are HERE .  Without a doubt, there were other  losses in the extended church family, but his is one that is still mourned today by his cousins.

       I recall Alan Kohn who was a high school friend and who died serving our country in Vietnam on March 26, 1968 -  a few days after his twenty-first birthday.  I did not know him well but recall that our school (it was my senior year) mourned his loss. HERE is the link to his listing on the Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces. I looked back at our high school annual (Dreher High School in Columbia, 1965) and noted the saying by his photograph- "I have kept unsullied and untarnished that thing - a name- entrusted to my care."  Indeed, you did , Alan.

       The Vietnam conflict cost McClellanville the lives of two young African-American men.  James Henry Brown, Jr., aged 20 yrs, died on August 21, 1969,  almost one month to the date his tour began.  He is buried in the Bethel AME Cemetery.  David Lee Mitchell, aged 23, died in an accident 22 days after his tour began.  You can view their records- HERE. (You will need to plug their names into the search box at the top right).

         There were 76 Vietnam casualties from Charleston, 12 from Charleston Heights, and close to 900 from South Carolina.  It is hard to imagine the cost of nearly 900 lives to their families and communities.

         When my father died nearly three years ago, we inherited a treasure trove of family papers. Among those papers was a letter from a young cousin, Andrew Crawford Fraser, writing to his first cousin,  my great-grandmother. The letter was dated May 23, 1862, and he was killed in action seven days later, May 31, at the Battle of Seven Pines (also known as Fair Oaks)  near Henrico, Virginia.  He was 19 yrs old when he enlisted in the Boyce Guards (mostly Fairfield County)  under the command of Capt.  JN Shedd and served as a private in the 6th Regiment of the SC Volunteers, 2nd Company G. He enlisted on March 17th, 1862 and died a little more than two months later.  Prior to enlisting in 1862, he had been a Junior at South Carolina College (now University of SC).   Here is an excerpt from the letter.  Please note: there is no discussion of valor or causes - just a description of endless slogging in terrible conditions, the sounds of battle, and witnessing death. 

"We left Yorktown on a Saturday night about nine aclack [sic] and next morning at daylight we were only two miles from where we started.  The roads were in such terrible fix.  We marched  that until about three aclack [sic] in the evening when we halted about two miles this side of Williamsburg, and had hardly got off our baggage when we were ordered to fall in again, and was marched back the other side of the town, and took our position for the expected battle and had to stay there all night and it pouring down rain all the time, and what made the matter worse we were not allowed to close our eyes  after having  already lost two nights sleep.  In the morning six companies from our regiment were thrown out as skirmishers and the remaining four were ordered about two hundred yards to the right to act as a support to a battery.  When took this last position we were compelled to lie down so as to let the balls and shells pass over us which flew pretty thick.  Our position being on the left of the whole, we were not actively engaged until about two or three aclack [sic] in the evening.  I never heard the like in my life before as the firing on the right, it was one continuous roar of musketry and cannon for more than six hours, except when our  men would succeed in driving back the enemy, then the air was rent with their shouts as they charged on their retiring columns.  About three aclack [sic] in the evening we were somewhat taken by surprise by a cannon ball which came from behind us, and next thing we were ordered to go and take possession of a about half mile of so as to prevent the enemy from getting it.  We had to march the whole way through an open field, which the enemy was raking with his artillery which had by this time got into position, as we marched along Colonel Bratton noticed some of the men dodging as the balls would sing pass their ears when he said "men don't mind those things come on."  We succeeded in getting into the fort, after having some five or six men wounded, one had his leg shot off by a cannon ball and died on the feild (sic) After we got into the fort fired some five vollies [sic] at the enemy.  After remaining there for some time we received reinforcements and were out of the fort to support a North Carolina regiment in a charge on one of the enemy batteries which they succeeded in taking three different times but on account of our not {unclear} ____ a sufficient we had to leave it at last when we filed off into a piece of woods and commenced falling back to keep from being flanked by the enemy.  It now being dark we took the same position that we had in the morning.  I had no idea that the balls that the infantry of enemy fired at us came so thick but in going into the piece of woods I spoke of we had to go through an old corn field and I could hear the balls striking corn stalks just like rain.  "[2]

      He must have wondered, like so many young men over so many years,  what he was doing there and how in the world he would survive.  But, survive my long ago cousin did not.  At that battle (Seven Pines),  the Union troops noted 790 fatalities and the Confederates, 980.   Those numbers, though, pale again the total loss of nearly 690,000 lives in direct war fatalities in the American Civil War. 
     On one hand, I am wondering,  if we have lost the ability to count the cost of so much loss of life.  At present, the numbers keep adding up - 470,000 in Syria and  480,000 in Darfur - to say nothing of the cost of  extreme deprivation and profoundly disrupted lives as communities large and small are destroyed by warring factions.
      On the other hand, I am also left wondering if we realize the cost of  and treasure the gift of freedom purchased for us by the  blood of our brothers and, now, sisters.   Does our national life show any indication of gratitude for the costs paid for us?  Was the price paid so that we might enjoy endless national bickering over every imaginable thing?  Was the price paid so that our citizens might have the freedom to succumb to addictions of all sorts:  pornography, drugs,  and violence?  Was the price paid so that any modicum of civility might be drummed out of the public sphere?  Somehow, I don't think so.  So, please forgive me, if I don't wish you a Happy Memorial Day.  What I do wish for you, for me, and for us all is a thankful, thoughtful Memorial Day.

Almighty and everlasting God, in whom all souls live now and evermore, the God not of the dead but of the living:  We bless thee for all those who have faithfully lived and died in the service of their country.  As we ever hold them in grateful remembrance, do thou in thy love and mercy let light perpetual shine upon them, and bring us all at last into thine eternal kingdom of peace; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

[1] 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14.28-32)


[2] Clarkson-Crawford Family Papers.  Letter from AC Fraser to MRC Clarkson, dated May 23, 1862.