It is so easy to forget.
Once a war is over life goes on. Survivors return home. The years pass, and memories of the fallen fade.
Memorial Day offers an annual reminder to stop for a moment, to dust off those memories and honor the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Beyond that, we can take a stroll through a nearby cemetery, walking among the tombstones of those who died in wars from generations long past.
That their deaths were so long ago does not diminish what they did, or mitigate the lives cut short. We do well to reflect on them, their sacrifice and the profound grief of their loved ones.
Around this time of year I usually take a walk through Shiffler Cemetery to pay my respects to the buried or memorialized there. I decorate the memorial marker to my namesake, Don Allison, my great uncle. He perished when the U.S.S. Little was sunk by kamikazes off the coast of Okinawa in the waning days of World War II.
Don is not buried there. He went down with his ship. But years ago I helped his brother, my Great Uncle Rusty Allison, secure a memorial marker and have it placed beside the grave of Uncle Rusty, who also served during World War II but lived to return home. It is only right that Don is remembered, at least in this small way.
Another stone I often visit at Shiffler’s is that of Darius Baird, whose life was claimed in fighting near Atlanta during the Civil War. Baird’s body remains in Georgia, eventually reinterred at Marietta National Cemetery, but his family had a memorial stone placed here.
A young schoolteacher when the war broke out in 1861, Baird enlisted in the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a unit raised primarily in Williams County. He initially signed up for three years, and had the option to return home after his initial term of service expired in 1864. Instead he reenlisted and remained with his regiment.
On Sept. 1, 1864, Baird was a corporal assigned to the 38th Ohio color guard as the regiment formed in line to charge Confederate earthworks at Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta..
A regiment’s flag carried special significance during the Civil War, so membership in the color guard was a high honor. Soldiers in the regiment could maintain order based on the location of the flag, and because of that the color bearers were special targets of the enemy.
When the 38th Ohio surged forward that day several members of the color guard fell dead or wounded while carrying the flag. Among them was Darius Baird. Shot through the abdomen, he died several hours later, leaving behind a young widow , whom he had married only months before while home on furlough.
Baird’s remains actually lie in the Marietta, Georgia, National Cemetery, surrounded by other killed in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. However, his family saw fit to place a memorial stone at Shiffler’ Just like the memorial to my namesake Great Uncle Don. It is a fitting tribute to a young man’s ultimate sacrifice.
For me, and for anyone passing by, that stone is a reminder of a life given up in patriotic sacrifice. We should recognize we owe our freedom to those who paid that price before us, and continuation of our democracy will depend on the courage of us today and those to follow.
Sadly wars and even internal conflicts come and wars go. The years go by, life goes on. But we owe it to those who gave their lives to occasionally pause and remember, to repay our debt in at least that small measure.
We never, ever should forget.
Don Allison is an author, historian and a retired editor of The Bryan Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com