Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011


The final day of this event proved to be one of those glorious occasions, which materialize only occasionally, but whose very promise serves to brighten life. The previous evening’s storm had settled the dust and left the old battlefield luxuriously green, and today’s pristine freshness and dazzling sun, combined to create a truly invigorating day.  The morning’s events were a fabulous blur of activity, and the weeklong extravaganza would culminate this afternoon in a reenactment of Pickets’ courageous charge up Cemetery Ridge. By two o’clock the humidity was downright tropical and the temperature was a hundred degrees and climbing fast.
   Both sides were well represented for the reunion’s grand finale, and despite the fact that some questioned their ability; these old soldiers were ready, willing, and determined, to make this a culmination worthy of this illustrious affair.  As the three o’clock starting time approached, these old veterans were fired up and stoked!  Complete with authentic uniforms and much of their original regalia, both sides gathered together in final preparations.  The authentic sounds of moaning and groaning rose from the staging area, as the old timers fought feverishly to squeeze into their uniforms, and the fragrances of liniment, mothballs, and hot toddies, hung heavy in the air.
   Of the fifty thousand old soldiers who attended this assembly, the youngest, at age 61, would have been just a little shaver during the original conflict, and the eldest among us was alleged to be well over a hundred.  This claim however could not be substantiated, as his birth certificate was on a tattered piece of papyrus, and no one could make out the Aramaic!
   Shortly after three in the afternoon, the time of the original charge, the Rebs assumed positions at a predetermined point below the ridge; the Yankees took the ridge top, and thousands of spectators looked on from the perimeters. Against our doctors’ advice and our own better judgment, Lidge and I were determined to participate in this event. We’d join the ranks of the bluecoats and face the Rebel onslaught as they took the ridge.  It was a bit foolhardy, as advanced age and exorbitant temperatures introduced nine of our fellow patriots to their Maker before week’s end.
   Once everyone had taken up positions, a hush fell over the crowd.  The hot sun blazed down unmercifully on spectators and participants alike, sweat began to roll, gnats buzzed irritatingly in our eyes, and several moments ticked away, as we awaited our signal and the suspense gradually built!  Anxious men stood at the ready, a crow called in the distance, and all at once the stillness was broken by a piercing Rebel yell!  Drums rolled, the confederate ranks rose as one, bugles sounded, and as the vintage veterans sprang into their demanding charge, several of the more time ravaged warriors winded abruptly and went down in a moaning heap!
   I was already traumatized by a long trying journey and a distressing reunion with my brother, and as the advancing Rebels reached a point some fifty yards below the top of Cemetery Ridge, and the first old soldier crumpled and went down, I was caught up and overcome with emotion!  Seeing the fallen patriot collapse in the dust, I sprang to my feet with a commiserating moan, and charged down the hill intent on administering aid.  My fellow infantrymen, seeing my distress and equally overcome by emotion, joined simultaneously in my guttural lament, and our primordial groan built as our ranks closed on the Rebs.  Seconds later the two fronts of ancient veterans met on the field, ran headlong into each others open arms, and joined in compassionate embraces and exhausted sobs.  Fifty years of pent up emotions and long restrained passion, was suddenly released onto the now benign battlefield, and one hundred plus former antagonists joined in prayer, camaraderie, thanksgiving, and heartfelt affection.
   As we trudged slowly back up Cemetery Ridge, each assisting exhausted comrades, the Union Band played Dixie, the Rebel Band broke out in a spirited rendition of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, scars were healed and brotherhood prevailed.  “Obie’s Quest”   

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