Second Infantry Division History WWI

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Meaning of Memorial Day

America celebrates Memorial Day and pays tribute to those who have given their lives to keep us free.

Memorial Day, 2011 - Grandmothers are the guardians of memory. In a pile of photos and letters my grandmother kept for no special reason other than it meant something to her, I found two letters with a return address for Mrs. Edward (Loretta) Hines of Evanston, Illinois. The first dated March 14 and the second May 10, 1920.

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. This is something my grandmother Marguerite Chevallier Meine Pearson might say. She and Loretta Hines had something in common.

Loretta Hines was a Gold Star Mother. It was a term created during the First World War to honor mothers who had lost a son in war. Her son, Lt. Edward Hines, left his home in Illinois and went to France along with my grandfather James Madison Pearson. They were billeted together in the French village of Graffigny-Chemin, in the house where my grandmother lived.

Edward was Loretta's first born child. Loretta thanked my grandmother for caring for her son in his last days. His cause of death was never stated, but it was a death that was long and lingered. During his last days my grandmother was by his side comforting him. She solemnly promised Edward that his military hat and coat would be returned to his parents in case of his death.

A priest, Father Mackin, had just completed his visit to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hines. He gave to Loretta  her son's hat and coat. In thanks Mrs. Hines wrote to my grandmother:

We grow more lonesome for him, as the days go on and we are sure we shall never become reconciled to his death.Often times I catch myself expecting him to come home and I do wonder if we shall ever get used to this world without him. I really do not believe I will.

The war ended, my grandparents married, and had a first born son, William Fletcher Pearson, who died in an influenza epidemic. But my grandmother and grandfather and my mother never forgot young William and the heartache endured.

I suppose that one can never understand the true depth of emotion at the loss of a child. It is the one experience that a parent never wishes to know. Yet, it happens all too frequently and often for reasons that seem unfathomable. In Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 over 5,000 soldiers, both men and women, have died. Each soldier has a story that is special to someone. It is why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance - the one day where, in the midst of swimming and cook-outs, Americans collectively feel the loss of all mothers and fathers, of all families who have ever lost a loved one. We are reminded that, although it is one day for most of us, it is a lifetime of heartache for a husband or wife, mother or father, or other family member. As Loretta Hines said, "We Americans who have given our sons and who will never come home have suffered untold agony. We had built our lives about our boy and he was everything that we wanted him to be." Even as Mrs. Hines mourned the loss of her son, she expressed the gratitude she felt to my grandmother Marguerite for her care. Knowing that she had by this time married my grandfather, she also promised to visit her one day and share thoughts that only woman could share about the loss of a loved one.

The meaning of Memorial Day is expressed in the parades, the flowers, the flags and the ceremonies, but it is also the touching stories of how so many American families have suffered by the sacrifice of a loved one. May we never forget.

Loretta Hines could never forget her son or let his memory fade. Lt. Edward Hines died in 1917 and his parents, Edward Sr. and Loretta Hines immediately went to work, donating more than a million and a half  dollars to build a hospital in honor of their son, Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois. The hospital was built with the idea of treating wounded soldiers returning from World War I.

My advice is enjoy the swimming and the cook-outs, but also find a story and share it; for a moment or a lifetime experience the true meaning of Memorial Day.

I will start.

Sgt. Eric M. Nettleton, a native of Wichita, was killed the first week of January 2011 in Dehjawz-e Hasanzay, Afghanistan. Eric died when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol.A 2003 graduate of West High School, Eric leaves behind his wife Ashley, parents Jim and Sandy, brother Clayton, and sisters Jessica and Sarah. Freedom Remembered.

Listen to Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy.

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