Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer
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Memorial Day 2017

Looking over my shoulder I remember early Memorial Day weekends as justification for a summer season outing for my family.

My late dad, U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Luther Farmer, was so scarred by his service in World War II from North Africa, Italy, to Germany, that he couldn’t stomach enough to share stories with us. Little emphasis was laid upon patriotism, lost in the rush to escape old south Richmond. So, after the war we summer celebrated at Bosher’s Dam (James River) and in a frigid quarry off Route 60 Southwest of Richmond near the Virginia State Police building.

My uncle Elmo Wilkinson’s name is on the glass at the World War II monument just ashore of the Lee Bridge on the James. Dad, uncles and stepfather had taken up arms in order that I could grow up in a free society. I have a debt of gratitude that must be patriotically expressed this Memorial Day. It is a matter of pride and honor.

In 1950, we became Corrottoman River folks. It was a hot dog and hamburger weekend, the first of our annual opportunities for family to be at the Rivah! Yearly boats got a spring coat, piers were mended and beaches raked.

My guess is that I paid too little attention to the importance of this weekend until after I was wearing USMC green. My superiors had heavy chests. Decorations from this and that skirmish bedecked many a uniform. Some of the old salts shared WWII and Korea while trying to prepare us for southeast Asia.

Like most holidays, Memorial Day has undergone changes since its establishment just after the Civil War. When first instituted, the day of remembrance for war dead was always May 30. Most communities now observe Memorial Day on the last Monday in May.

By 1871, folks also were calling it Decoration Day, after the custom of decorating the graves of the dead. Americans have a tendency to shift both the dates and names of celebrations. This holiday is an example of that.

In 1998, Irvington native Ashley Robertson helped connect generations of patriots by the restoration of the 1918 World War I Memorial at the corner of Irvington Road and King Carter Drive. I have long forgiven him for such an industrious undertaking on the Methodist side of the road. He chose it for his Eagle Scout project. Sadly a season or so later back it fell victim to vandalism, but was easily repaired. These days Sgt. Ashley Robertson, of the Henrico County Police Division, is married to his lovely wife Emily and the happy dad of two precious children, Olivia and Jack.

To all of you who are living veterans, to the memory of those fallen in fields of battle, to the families of those missing in action, I tip my hat to you. I will pause and lift a prayer this holiday for I have much for which I am thankful. I am still proud to be an American. That right is a gift to me, from those who died to make it so.

Some of the patriotic voices of long-gone peek and sneak from tomes grown dusty. After all is said and done wars have left America scarred. Let’s look back upon an expression of sad memory.

The Nation’s Dead

Four hundred thousand men,

The brave—the good—the true,

In tangled wood, in mountain glen,

On battle plain, in prison pen,

Lie dead for me and you!

Four hundred thousand of the brave

Have made our ransomed soil their grave,

For me and you!

Good friend, for me and you!

In many a fevered swamp,

By many a black bayou,

In many a cold and frozen camp,

The weary sentinel ceased his tramp,

And died for me and you!

From Western plain to ocean tide

Are stretched the graves of those who died

For me and you!

Good friend, for me and you!

On many a bloody plain

Their ready swords they drew,

And poured their life-blood, like the rain,

A home—a heritage to gain,

To gain for me and you!

Our brothers mustered by our side

They marched, and fought, and bravely died,

For me and you!

Good friend, for me and you!

Up many a fortress wall

They charged—those boys in blue—

‘Mid surging smoke, and volleyed ball

The bravest were the first to fall!

To fall for me and you!

These noble men—the nation’s pride—

Four hundred thousand men have died

For me and you!

Good friend, for me and you!

In treason’s prison-hold

Their martyr spirits grew

To stature like the saints of old,

While amid agonies untold,

They starved for me and you!

The good, the patient, and the tried,

Four hundred thousand men have died,

For me and you!

Good friend, for me and you!

A debt we ne’er can pay

To them is justly due,

And to the nation’s latest day

Our children’s children still shall say,

“They died for me and you!”

Four hundred thousand of the brave

Made this, our ransomed soil, their grave,

For me and you!

Good friend, for me and you!

Rev. Edward C. Porter, The Round Table (September 9, 1865)

Now add to that total, the lost troops of World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and other military actions for our American troops, and loss to war in America is unfathomable.


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