I'm sure I read this in school, but it wasn't until I read Shelby Foote's book, 'The Civil War,' that I realized just how many died. At the Battle of Gettysburg alone, 51,000 soldiers died -- a number that's almost equal to the population of Walker County now. Twenty eight thousand of those who died were from the hills and hollows of the south.
Even 150 years later when I contemplate the loss of life, it makes me sad beyond words.
Memorial Day was already a federal holiday, but after World War I the government extended the holiday to include all U.S. soldiers who died defending our country.
The late 1960's and early 70's during the Vietnam War was a dark period in American history. When soldiers came home, they didn't receive the same welcome as soldiers from earlier wars, who came home as heroes.
One of the first memorials built specifically for Vietnam Veterans was "The Wall," which was completed in 1982. The monument is in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall in Washington D.C. The monument contains the names of the 158,175 men and women who died in that conflict.
It seems the healing began on some level when that monument was built. I've never seen it, but Jilda was there on business in the late 80's and she told me she wept as she touched the names on The Wall.
War is never glamorous, and it comes with a huge price tag.
Not only in terms of dollars, but the loss of life. When you factor in the the impact of soldiers who come home with scars both physical and mental, the costs are staggering.
The Bible says there will always be wars and rumors of wars.
Those words have been true for all of my life. And every time there was a call to duty, our soldiers, both men and women, have stepped up and done what we asked them to do. They leave the debate about whether or not the war is just, to others.
As I thought about what to say in this story, I was driving by the Sumiton Community Center. I remembered the Sumiton Area Veteran's Memorial so I pulled in. The sun was dipping below the horizon to the west and the light was stunning. I sat for a long time and soon the drone of traffic and other noise faded.
On the front of the memorial are the words Duty, Honor, Country, and as those words seeped in, it occurred to me that through the ages, men and women believed in these words enough to lay their lives down.
It's because of their sacrifice, that we in this country are free to kick off the summer at the beach, and stuff ourselves with hotdogs and hamburgers on Memorial Day. Free to go to the Memorial Day sales and max out our credit cards. We owe them a great debt.
Jilda and I plan to celebrate on Memorial Day too, but I can promise you this -- the sun will not set, before I say a prayer of gratitude to all our fallen soldiers.