May 30, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

When my double Great-Grandfather Robert Wilhelm Guenther left Appomattox and then his mustering-out as a Union soldier in June 1865, he accomplished the greatest feat of his four-year “career” — he survived.
So many of his comrades did not — in the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, the defense of Washington, D.C., Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and other fights for the independent light and heavy artillery of the three New York State regiments records seem to have Robert serving in, 1861-1865.
Except for an uncle — Winfield — who lost three fingers in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest in World War II, my direct line of Gunthers has not suffered harm or the ultimate sacrifice in any war since the family left Prussia about 1850. That means we do not have that certain mourning so deep within, especially on Memorial Day.
I — we in the family — can and do show added respect on Veterans Day for Uncle Winnie, yes, but the true Memorial Day has been left to those Spring Valley, N.Y., and other families we grew up with whose thoughts surely moved away from the annual parades, the flags, the political speeches, the decorated bicycles kids used to ride.
We have all seen the gold stars moms and dads hung in their front windows when a child — and the grownup is always a child, even in death in war — does not ever, ever, come home. But back in the heart he (she) is, tucked in emotionally even if the physical can never happen again in that upstairs bedroom.
We all know that no mother ever feels the same again, no father, no sibling. Communities may regain their daily rhythm. World War II and other honor rolls may be removed and permanent memorials placed in public parks. New young are born, parents pass on, the village changes. There are more Memorial Day parades, and, sadly, more mothers, especially mothers whose pangs of loss are as acute, more so actually, than that in childbirth and directly tied, forever now, to that life-altering moment.
So, this Memorial Day is not for recalling Civil War or other war survivors. That respect comes on Veterans Day. This is Memorial Day, and we who still stand, we who have no family connection to ultimate sacrifice, must find a moment of silence before the barbecue is lit, the pool attacked, the time off from work happens.