Esteemed thinker: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Memorial Day

Memorial Day 1940s

How long does it take a moment to become a memory? Perhaps the amount of time it takes for us to realize that it has passed and the only way to recapture it is to store it away for later. But there are some memories that should not be stored too snugly, too hidden away in the convenience of “not my problem.” And when things that we tend to relegate far from ease, time rolls around where we are nudged with the thoughts and reminders of those who are gone, but never to be forgotten.

So, it is a with Memorial Day, a momentous occasion where our nation commemorates the lives of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Words often do not give justice to the thanks and gratitude we feel and wish to offer these great women and men of the armed forces.  As we enter into reflection, a characteristic that comes into our minds is Heroism; a word that we can define with both commonalities and personal experiences; rediscovered when we unite together or rekindled within our own private solitude.

 

Oliver_Wendell_Holmes_Jr_circa_1930-edit

Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr.

I bring to you words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,  Holmes (1841- 1935), a veteran of the Civil War, delivered his address in 1884; titled “In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire.” His speech was given in Keene, N.H., two decades before his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in honor of the fallen American soldiers and the meaning of Memorial Day

“So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting….

But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column… bid us think of life, not death – of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

 

First image: Ashland, Aroostook County, Maine. Memorial Day ceremonies, Collier, John, photographer Published 1943 May.

Second image:Holmes: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932, and as Acting Chief Justice of the United States January–February 1930

Esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson and working animals

puppies sled team Never has there been a time on earth where we have not relied upon animals to help with our work. No matter the size, large or small, nor the count of legs, two or four… no matter where we live… north, south, east, west… regardless of the climate…. cold or hot, or the location…. above or below land; there has always been the representation of some species that has helped us out or even pulled us out of a jam.

Let us take the mule, a rather interesting high-bred of an animal, the offspring of a female horse and male donkey. (Left under their own natural preferences one must wonder if either would have gotten together without a bit of coercion from humans.) Although often the butt of jokes, it is a most hardworking animal. They plowed fields, worked underground in the mines, and hauled loads through the mountains; the sturdy and reliable mule, never asking for much more than to be fed and watered.

And although we usually think of birds as flighty and not exactly the kind of animal one would rely upon (except to taste good when cooked for dinner), the rock pigeon has given its species a place in “work history”. The homing pigeon is a bird that has been domesticated to work, which includes having provided service to the armed forces. For years they were used as military messengers due to their homing ability, speed, and flying altitude. And who would think that those pesky birds we all shoo away from sitting aloft would be heroes!

As far back in time as the Roman Empire the camel too has paid its military duty; it has been saddled and ridden into battle right up into modern days. Known for their endurance, this desert dweller was first domesticated around 3,000 BC and has been working ever since; transporting people and goods in some of the world’s driest and hottest regions. Its broad flat feet enable it to walk in the sand without sinking (and without much complaining)!

Yes, there are countless animals that work for peanuts…like the elephants! So the next time we find ourselves bemoaning about work, just remember, there is some tired dog that has just come home from working at the airport having sniffed all day through luggage stuffed with dirty laundry… such a thankless job, and all it wants in reward is a gentle pat on the head.

Matthew henson_2 Today’s blog returns the esteemed thinker: Matthew A. Henson, the renowned African American explorer who in 1890 joined Admiral Peary’s first Arctic expedition across the northern tip of Greenland. From June 1891 to August 1902, Henson spent seven years in the Arctic with Peary, covering 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) on dogsleds across northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island, in Canada. Henson was a man that was well-liked by those who came in contact with him; being admired by the Inuit population for his hunting and sled-driving skills, as well as his ability to speak their language.

I now present to you a bit of insightful observations snipped from his autobiography, A Negro Explorer of the North Pole. Here are the words of the illustrious, Mr. Henson and his thoughts about ‘man’s best friend’, dogs!

“….I had a much livelier time with some members of the Peary Arctic Club’s expedition known as “our four-footed friends”—the dogs.

The dogs are ever interesting. They never bark, and often bite, but there is no danger from their bites. To get together a team that has not been tied down the night before is a job. You take a piece of meat, frozen as stiff as a piece of sheet-iron, in one hand, and the harness in the other, you single out the cur you are after, make proper advances, and when he comes sniffling and snuffling and all the time keeping at a safe distance, you drop the sheet-iron on the snow, the brute makes a dive, and you make a flop, you grab the nearest thing grabable—ear, leg, or bunch of hair—and do your best to catch his throat, after which, everything is easy. Slip the harness over the head, push the fore-paws through, and there you are, one dog hooked up and harnessed. After licking the bites and sucking the blood, you tie said dog to a rock and start for the next one. It is only a question of time before you have your team. When you have them, leave them alone; they must now decide who is fit to be the king of the team, and so they fight, they fight and fight; and once they have decided, the king is king. A growl from him, or only a look, is enough, all obey, except the females, and the females have their way, for, true to type, the males never harm the females, and it is always the females who start the trouble…

Next to the Esquimos, the dogs are the most interesting subjects in the Arctic regions, and I could tell lots of tales to prove their intelligence and sagacity. These animals, more wolf than dog, have associated themselves with the human beings of this country as have their kin in more congenial places of the earth. Wide head, sharp nose, and pointed ears, thick wiry hair, and, in some of the males, a heavy mane; thick bushy tail, curved up over the back; deep chest and fore legs wide apart; a typical Esquimo dog is the picture of alert attention. They are as intelligent as any dog in civilization, and a thousand times more useful. They earn their own livings and disdain any of the comforts of life. Indeed it seems that when life is made pleasant for them they get sick, lie down and die; and when out on the march, with no food for days, thin, gaunt skeletons of their former selves, they will drag at the traces of the sledges and by their uncomplaining conduct, inspire their human companions to keep on…”

First image 1900s photo of puppies bred for pulling Arctic sleds

Esteemed thinker: Abraham Lincoln

gettysburg 150 years ago beginning July 1 to July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg took place in Adams County, Pennsylvania. For three hot and treacherous days this most famous and most important Civil War Battle occurred; and although it started out as a skirmish, its fierce battles ended with 160,000 Americans involved and nearly one-third of the forces engaged resulted in casualties. Noted as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it was also the force behind the immortal speech of President Lincoln.

On Nov. 19th, 1863 President Lincoln went to the battlefield to dedicate its “hollow ground” as a military cemetery, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, whereupon he delivered his monumental Gettysburg Address. This brief speech of only 272 words still rings as loudly and as eloquently today; for the vision he saw for America, his vision of a new birth of freedom continues to resonate… and the famous phrase ”government of the people, by the people, for the people” demonstrates his democratic principles. His challenge to the American people a century and a half ago continues to be an inspiration; holding true “that all men are created equal”, wherever they may reside.

So in remembrance of this somber occasion I introduce or reintroduce to you to the timeless words of the 16th president of the United States, my hero, the esteemed thinker: Abraham Lincoln. I wish that my blog gives you a moment’s pause, to reawaken your memory with these most famous words. Here is President Lincoln….

Dedication gettysburg Gettysburg, Pa. November 1863. Dedication of Gettysburg battlefield

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS” (19 NOVEMBER 1863)
[1] Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

[2] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

[3] But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

blue and grey and tent gettysburg