Monday, May 25, 2009


The bugle filled the gymnasium with Taps, a plaintive melody of good-night and also farewell to those lost in battle. It's Memorial Day in Elkin. I've never heard music in a gym that sounded beautiful, but never say never. The reverb swelled the tone but didn't interfere. It was far away and big like it was echoing off the mountain. Like the call to gather the militia. Come back. We need you.

The VFW conducted a brief ceremony and a decorated veteran about his life-long experiences. Specifically he reminded us of the lives lost and these were just in the 20th century, not including Iraq or the Revolution or the American Civil War.

WWI - 53,513 combat deaths I have a certificate sent to my grandfather by President
Carter in recognition of his service in France
WWII -       292,131 combat deaths Mom has a cousin whose name is listed in the Battleship USS North Carolina memorial lost in battle 
Korea - 33,629 combat deaths RG's Dad drove an ambulance, was wounded, sent home and met RGs future mom in a hospital
Vietnam - 47,378 combat deaths. Ben Long thoughtfully expressed interest this weekend in painting about Vietnam for Marines.

War is hell. It is not something to be entered into lightly. It will demand sacrifice. It will rage and innocents will also be lost between the combatants.  

I see this underlying theme in the life of Benjamin Cleveland of Wilkes county in the Revolution. He can best be described as a rascal and perhaps a good ol' boy. He hung Tories more often than not, though he could apparently be talked out of it on occasion. 

The point is as at the beginning of the war, he thought nothing of it. But, at the end of the war, he hung a Tory on the Yadkin River who had previously kidnapped him and almost killed him. A young boy, Jimmy Gywn and his young black companion begged for the Tory's life as Ben's troops crying and cursing, strung the Tory up. Lyman Draper in Kings Mountain and Its Heroes said even Ben Cleveland had tears in his eyes explaining to the boys that this was a bad man and in bad times...  The sycamore tree stills extends over the Yadkin River in Ronda and you can see it as you paddle a canoe around the Roundabout.

I don't know, I think Ben Cleveland had to just buck up and do his duty when in the past, he did it for revenge. I think now the horror of all of it was sinking in.  He must somehow be different after war.

Once I had to testify in a capital murder case. I remember being so angry at the criminal for killing a young woman. His appeals went on for years. Every time there was a stay. Finally, one night at in early morning, I was working third shift designing alone and it came on the radio that he was executed. None of the anger was in me. I was exhausted and I cried for him too. I'm glad he's gone, I was afraid of him. But he never had a chance given his circumstances. What do you do? It's a sacrifice. Forgive me. Taps.

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