Past is Prologue to the Present
In my last column, I stated that I was saddened by the recent split in the Episcopal Church.
I noted then that it has been said that the genius of the American experience has been our ability to work out our many differences and work together.
In fact, it was the failure to do that which resulted in the Civil War when hotheads in South Carolina changed the course of our nation.
Supporters of slavery, they were concerned about the views of a newly-elected abolitionist President, in an era of weak executive power.
So, they decided to challenge him on his one undisputed power, that of commander-in-chief.
Many Southerners realized that slavery could not be defended morally, but they were forced to accept it economically.
So, instead of working in Congress on some method of gradually ending a barbaric system, the gauntlet was thrown down instead.
They gambled and lost. Their extreme solution led to the extreme reaction of Reconstruction.
That, in turn, led to the extreme reaction of the Jim Crow era and segregation. The result was that progress in the South was impeded.
Except for Southern poets, writers, musicians, and athletes, the region became a stagnant national backwater.
It has taken generations to overcome the ignorance and poverty that resulted from the actions of a group of hotheads.
If, instead, they had worked for a peaceful resolution, they would have found that peace brings prosperity and prosperity brings progress.
But, peace starts with open communications between parties. Getting two warring factions together is not easy, but it beats the alternative.
I wish my Episcopal friends well and trust that they will enjoy the new year. I also hope that they learn the lessons of the past.
One of the “Bedford Boys”
In the early morning of June 6, 1944, U.S. and British troops crossed the English Channel in hundreds of landing craft.
Thousands of young men landed on the beaches of German-occupied Normandy, France, and charged into enemy fire.
It was D-Day and the first wave of troops included companies of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.
Composed of National Guardsmen from Virginia and Maryland, it was known as the “Blue and Gray Division.”
Company A included 34 young men from little Bedford, Virginia, a town with a population of 3,400.
In the first minutes of the landing, 19 of these “Bedford Boys” would be killed. Among the dead was 24-year old Ray Stevens.
His twin brother, Roy, was put in a separate landing craft and almost drowned when it sank off-shore.
Roy was rescued, sent back to England, and landed in Normandy four days later, where he found his brother’s grave.
Seriously wounded in action three weeks later, Roy returned to his family farm outside Bedford the next year.
It was there this past New Year’s Day that humble Roy Stevens passed away at the age of 87.
Over the last few years, Roy often visited schools to tell of his experience in World War II.
To a fourth grade class in 2002, he said, “We should think about our country today and maintain our support for freedom. It will be up to you to keep it, even at the hazard of your own life.”
That is a lesson from one of the last “Bedford Boys” that we should all keep in mind.