Remembering the Fallen
SHARPSBURG, Md. – Memorial Day was greeted at Antietam National Cemetery with all of the solemnity, emotion and reverence it deserves to remember fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice throughout our nation’s history.
More than 200 visitors came to the ceremony which featured honored guest speakers, music by the Hagerstown Choral Arts group, artillery salute and the playing of Taps as a ceremonial wreath was laid at the Private Soldier monument. The inscription on the monument reads, “Not for themselves, but for their country. September 17, 1862.”
“We come not to glorify war, but to remember our honored dead whose blood soaked and stained the field here, at other places across our land and around the world-Normandy, Iwo Jima and the list goes on an on,” said Reverend John Schlidt, Chaplain, 29th Infantry Division during his invocation.
“For some, Memorial Day never ends,” continued Schlidt. “For those who have gold stars in their windows to remember those who never came home, vacant chairs, broken family circles, tears and griefs. As we gather today, may we never forget the sacrifices of men and women in the armed services and on the home front who did their best.”
Schlidt also asked attendees to remember to pray for soldiers who have returned home wounded or with broken spirit.
Bob Knepper served in Vietnam for 15 months, 4 days, 8 hours and 30 minutes and was greeted by protests and people spitting on him when he returned home. It’s a painful memory that he tries to put behind him.
“I’m blessed to be here,” said Knepper. “It’s a humbling experience knowing that people died in my place. I really enjoy the respect of the people here because after I came home (from Vietnam) I was spit on in graduate school and I was ridiculed by professors. One professor called me up to the front of the class and asked me how many babies I killed over there. I’m just glad it’s not that way now.”
Another Vietnam veteran in attendance, Milton Moats said he tries to come to the Memorial Day event every year.
“Being here makes me happy,” said Moats. “I’m glad there were men willing to give it all so that we can have what we have today. These men died so that we could have a free vote. That’s why were told we were being sent to Vietnam-to give those people an opportunity to vote and to stop the spread of communism.”
Keith Snyder, Chief of Resource and Visitor Education at Antietam gave a brief history of Antietam saying that over 4,000 were killed in and hastily buried on the farms by the Union soldiers in the days and weeks that followed the battle. For four years no effort was made to find a suitable final resting place for the fallen until State Senator Louis Firey proposed purchase of an 11 acre plot to bury the remains of the soldiers.
“The work began to reinter what would eventually be 4,774 Union soldiers from this and other battles,” said Snyder. “The original legislation called for the burial of Union and Confederate dead, but the bitterness from the recent conflict and the lack of funds provided by the states of what was then the former Confederacy led to the burial of only Union soldiers here (Antietam National Cemetery).”
Confederate soldiers are buried in three local cemeteries in Hagerstown, Maryland, Frederick, Maryland, and Shepherdstown.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Antietam Cemetery. There will be a series of events in August and September to commemorate the occasion.