Saturday, May 27, 2017

The cost

The Blob will put aside the usual sporty business today, because it's Memorial Day weekend and time to do something else. It's time to take you on a little trip.

Nine or so hours east of Indiana, you see, there's a peaceful hilltop in Pennsylvania, where echoes that stretch back 144 years reverberate forever. It is one of my favorite places on earth, especially when the sun is just up and the ground is dew-wet, and the laden tour buses haven't begun growling up the long, snaking ribbon of blacktop at the base of the hill.

There are no moms and dads huffing and puffing up the path to the summit, at this hour. There are no kids hopping among the boulders strewn about as if by a giant's hand. Little Round Top is quiet.

And so I sit there and I sip my coffee and I look out over the wide valley below, and I remember what happened there on July 2, 1863. I remember how this howling gray host came swarming out of the woods and fields to my left in the late afternoon, clambering over the Flintstone rocks of Devil's Den, mad to get at the place where I sit. I remember how they died down there, how their bodies were strewn among those rocks and in those fields and along a weedy trickle named Plum Run.

And I remember, too, the men who died to stop them.

Off to my left and down the hill a ways is where a Harvard man named Strong Vincent died. Just to my right was where an Irish New Yorker named Patrick O'Rorke took a fatal bullet; there's a statue there now with his face on it in bas relief, the patina worn off its nose where generations of tourists have rubbed it for good luck. Just up the hill, where two mute cannon sit today, a couple of officers named Charles Hazlett and Stephen Weed died, taken out by a Confederate sniper down there in Devil's Den.

I feel all of them around me, in these quiet moments before Gettysburg National Military Park stirs to life. And if we're doing it right this weekend, we all feel them, them and the thousands upon thousands more who have died and now lie in the earth behind neat rows of white crosses from Arlington National Cemetery to Belleau Wood.

As anyone who ever survived the awfulness of war will tell you, it's those men behind the crosses who are the real heroes in this piece. They went off to war and they didn't come back. And today I can sit on this peaceful hilltop and sense their presence because of it.

There's not much more to add to that. But here's a clip from the HBO series "The Pacific." I've posted it before, but it seems an especially good reminder  now of who we are and what we have, and how it all has been made possible.

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