They Were All Americans
Now and Then in the SCV
I’ll not forget the high school students who reenacted a Civil War battle when I lived in Virginia. Some of the parents were concerned their son or daughter might have to be a “damned Yankee.” Actually that brought a few laughs, because everyone realized it was a history lesson.
This week the Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School held a Civil War reenactment. Some people were upset, thinking their son or daughter could have to participate in something like this and they would have to play the part of a Confederate soldier or citizen.
There were similar questions when I lived in Virginia – only my friends there were worried that their children might have to portray a “damned Yankee.”
Born in 1950, I grew up here in the SCV playing “Army” at Hart Park and in Pico Canyon. We had toy guns and web belts with canteens and ammunition pouches. We could buy all of that stuff in Newhall.
I have to admit, I was a little confused when I started into Hart High School and found out I was an Indian. Thinking back, it seems we all spent time being either a cowboy or an Indian when we played with our bow and arrows, six-gun cap pistols, and whatever else.
I don’t think those toy guns and playing war did much to affect those of us who did so. By the 1960s, we were the generation that marched in massive anti-war protests all over the country. We were also the generation that went to Vietnam. More than 58,000 of us died there. We were beginning to realize that in war, people died. It wasn’t charging up the hill at Hart Park.
I’m a veteran. Memorial Day is not a day for living veterans. That day is in November. Today is the day we recognize those who have died for each and every one of us. Memorial Day is for the dead.
We do all sorts of things to celebrate or honor those who have died. Camping. Swimming. Barbecue grills filled with good things to eat. We fish and drink and play games on the lawn with our kids. Don’t forget those long hours in traffic to get to someplace, and the long hours’ drive back.
Stores have special sales in honor of “the veterans who have served.” It seems we do everything we can, except what the day was originally supposed to be: a day set aside to be a memorial for those who have given their last great measure of sacrifice to our country.
But that is not what we are doing.
My folks tended to call it “Decoration Day” because that was the day when the graves of our fallen soldiers were to be decorated with flowers and flags. It is thought that the tradition of decorating those graves was started in the former Confederate states … except that in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, from a former Confederate state (Texas), issued a proclamation that stated Waterloo, Iowa, was where it began.
And so the argument still continues. Confederate and Union memorials were combined for most all by 1870. Wounds within the country were healing. We realized the dead have no allegiance. They are all Americans. That fact became clear in how people wrote and spoke about our country before and after that Civil War.
Before Appomattox, when folks spoke about the United States, it was as if the states were separate sovereign entities and we would say, “The United States ARE.” Following the war, in the spirit of unity, people wrote of the country saying, “The United States IS.” Those 625,000 deaths from the Civil War changed us from a plural to a singular. No matter which side in that conflict, our country became truly united as one. The UNITED States of America.
So if your kid wants to wear a Confederate uniform at a reenactment … why not? Those men who died in that war were Americans, too.