A Sunday sermon for Memorial Day. (Yes, I know Memorial Day is tomorrow, not today.)
The Blumenau family is not one of those with deep, intimate links to the American military. For better or worse, soldiering is not a job my ancestors seem to have pursued with particular avidity. (Perhaps they were lovers, not fighters.)
But a few of my forebears deserve recognition for their military service.
I think often of brothers Levi and Robert Beebe — something like my great-great-great-great-great-uncles — who marched out of East Haddam, Connecticut, and took up arms in the Revolutionary War.
As an expatriate New Englander, in spirit if not birth, I have maximum respect for the men (as almost all of them were) who swallowed hard, took on the world’s most powerful empire, and won — and then turned around and tackled the even greater challenge of defining and maintaining a new, independent nation.
Everything we as Americans have today, we owe in some fundamental way to those ragged bands of citizen-soldiers. I take pride in knowing there are a few of these folks in my bloodline — however distant they might be, and however disgusted they would probably be with my pampered 21st-century lifestyle. (They fought the Lobsterbacks so that I might sit in a cubicle all day and write talking points? I’m still working that one out.)
The Beebe brothers survived the war and went back to Connecticut.
More than 150 years later, in a different kind of war, another of my relatives would not be so lucky.
We’re getting away from our format a little bit. My Great-Uncle Ray, the sunny-looking gent pictured above, came from my mom’s side of my family, not my dad’s. (He was the brother of my maternal grandmother.)
And he never appeared on my grandfather’s calendars, which are the ostensible raison d’etre of this blog.
No matter: He deserves a moment’s recognition as the only close relative I know of, on either side of my family, to give his life in combat for his country.
Great-Uncle Ray — U.S. Army Private First Class Raymond J. Cahill of Torrington, Connecticut — died in France on July 15, 1944, roughly a month after the D-Day landings. He is buried in a national cemetery on Long Island that can’t be more than two hours from my house; I’ve thought several times that I might go, but have never actually done it.
In the up-close-and-personal scheme of things, he is a hero — an ordinary American who paid the highest price for a crucial cause.
A blog post that will be read by a small handful of online passers-by is a pretty slim reward for that kind of sacrifice. But it’s what I have this Memorial Day weekend; and here it is, for what it’s worth.
Thank you, Great-Uncle Ray, and everyone else — from Lexington and Concord on down — who gave your lives to preserve the promise of the greatest, most free country in the world.
Successive generations have done an increasingly lousy job of conducting our national affairs in a manner worthy of your sacrifices.
But we have not completely misplaced what you gave us. The essence of the American promise is still in our grasp. And maybe we will figure out how to do you proud yet.
Coming tomorrow: A restoration of normal, irreverent blog-service.