Many years ago I first visited the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania. I was with a few others, and I was forced into being the tour guide. I longed to break away and just wander around alone.
I got a chance near the main monument of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, located in the area where the unit charged down to delay the Confederate onslaught on July 2, 1863. The regiment did its job but at great cost. I remember walking down that day into the field where those men fought and died and thinking how crazy they were to run toward certain death. Their few numbers didn’t have a chance, and they were slaughtered — but they helped keep the enemy in check long enough to reinforce the line. I actually shed tears that day.
I’m currently re-reading a book about another part of the battle of Gettysburg. I’m also playing a game about the battle. That’s what I do. I read about battles and campaigns. I play games about them. I talk with others about them. But it’s not the same as actually walking on the battlefields, whether it’s a field at Gettysburg, a sunken road at Antietam, or a hill at Little Bighorn. I’ve visited many. For me, it’s a sobering experience. My limited combat time in the U.S. Army pales in comparison to the horrors those men faced on those parcels of grass, rock, streams, or woods.
I want that land preserved. Many are, thanks to the National Park Service. But some “hallowed ground” is under constant threat of development: roads, housing, businesses, casinos, golf courses, and more. I’m as pro-development as anyone, but the preservation of land that Americans fought and died on trumps that.
It’s why I became a member of the American Battlefield Trust. I’m one of its more modest members, giving what time and money I can. In a way, it reflects the trust’s efforts to preserve even the most modest, unassuming plots of land — land that tells a silent story of sacrifice and suffering.
David Duncan, the American Battlefield Trust president, agrees with me that America’s battlefields are truly hallowed, made sacred by the blood shed upon them.
“When we protect a historic battlefield, we honor the memory of those who fought and fell on that ground,” Duncan says. “But we also pay respect to the greater universe of Americans who have answered the call to service above self. Perhaps most important, remembering the sacrifice of soldiers from centuries past is a promise to our modern men and women in uniform: you, too, shall never be forgotten."
I know I will never forget. And yes, I know I’m probably in the minority. There are many other causes out there that are deserving of people’s time and money and get more limelight. I contribute to a few others as well. But as a veteran, historian, and proud American, I am more than happy to help preserve the memory of our fallen, through the preservation of the land they fell on.
Regardless, this Memorial Day, remember our fallen. And, when you have the chance during your Memorial Day weekend vacation, visit a battlefield or, in a pinch, a veterans’ cemetery. Walk the grounds. Appreciate the sacrifices of our service members, and appreciate the ground they served and died on — where they finally found peace.
Dave Boe is a communications professional and a veteran who lives in Duluth. He can be reached at email@example.com.