‘…And His Widow and His Orphan…’ A Memorial Day Post

Memorial Day is about war – about the ones who left and didn’t come home – usually. That’s fitting.

But really, this day memorializes much more than that.

"...His comrade leans over and strives to rouse him. He shouts ‘Charlie! Charlie!’ But the words follow upon an ear already deaf to all earthly sounds...”I think to myself how many times has he heard that name in his far-off New England home, from a mother’s, a sister’s, it may be yet dearer lips...The body is borne forward... stretched upon a board and covered with the flag he died to serve...I turn away...The...soldier who had shouted ‘Charlie!’ in the dead man’s ear hands me the ‘descriptive list,’ which he has taken from the pocket of the deceased. I carry it to the light, and read, ‘Charles Myrick, of Co. A, Capt. Perry, 8th regt. Maine Volunteers, enlisted August 23, 1861, at Lowell, Maine, age 21 years.”

This Civil War article was filed by a correspondent of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper February 7, 1863. [1]

The reporter wrote this article to give his readers a sense of the tragedy of war…the feeling of just another slip of paper with a “descriptive list,” so a man’s passing can be marked.

This article and others like it were printed again and again in thousands of newspapers during eight or more wars over the last 150 years. It represents the perfect illustration of what Memorial Day is really all about.

At Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, the Memorial Day

Laying of the Wreath, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery

ceremony includes placing a wreath at that grave of graves – The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Much ado is made in war of the “Unknown Soldier,” and it should be. A soldier, who’s identity because of the way he or she suffered death in war, is “known only to God.”

But those are not the only “unknowns” of war.

Rereading the article – the ONLY known identity is that person’s who didn’t return – Charles Myrick’s. The unidentified: Charles’ comrade, his mother, sister, or his “dearer lips.”

Those are the other “unknowns” – the other casualties of war.

But they lived – survived – went on – or so we all say.

But while the soldiers like Myrick never got to live a full life, we must not

‘his widow and his orphan’

forget that their families and comrades never did either.

Yes, they lived on after Myrick; but they also lived WITHOUT Myrick. They too died a little, lived a little less, and were denied a full life without his presence.

Memorial Day is the story about the true tragedy of war – the one who didn’t live AND the ones who did.

And Lincoln had it right…

…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan…” [2]

Food for thought. Have a safe Memorial Day!



[1] “The Soldier’s Funeral.” Published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, February 7, 1863.

[2] Roy P. Basler, editor, “Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865,” Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, v.VIII:332-33.

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