Memorial Day, 2011

Before it was Memorial Day, a day on which we remember and venerate those who have died in war in the service of our country, it was Decoration Day. Decoration Day was specifically a commemoration of the Civil War dead and, as David Blight reminds us in the New York Times, possibly the first Decoration Day was when freed blacks in Charleston, South Carolina reburied Union soldiers and, a year later, paraded to remember their sacrifice.

My family has been extraordinarily fortunate. No member of my family, my lineage, has died in war in centuries. Indeed, no one in my immediate lineage has served in the military since the Civil War. It wasn’t for lack of trying. My dad volunteered for the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and even the FBI during World War II. He was rejected by all of them.

My grandfathers were both too old for World War I, both my Schuler and Blanchard grandfathers too young for the Spanish-American War, their fathers too old.

My great-great-grandfather David Schuler (for whom I am named) arrived in this country after the Civil War. In his forties at the time he would have been too old to serve even had he been here, my great-grandfather too young.

My great-great-grandfather Charles Wagner served from 1861 to 1865 in the 59th Illinois Infantry. He enlisted as a private and rose through the ranks to captain. The 59th Illinois saw considerable action taking part in battles in Chaplin Hills, Lancaster, Nashville, Nolensville, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, and the siege of Chattanooga where they led the charge up Missionary Ridge in the Lookout Mountain campaign. In 1864 they took part in the campaign against Atlanta and in the Battle of Nashville.

Despite his youth my great-great-grandfather Flanagan enlisted in the Union Army. Twice. I’ll tell the whole story another time but after serviing for some time he just up and left. The War Department eventually decided that he hadn’t deserted because he’d never been properly mustered in (he left because he wasn’t being paid).

My great-great-grandfather McCoy served in the Provisional Missouri Militia, affiliated with the Union Army. They saw no action.

I have reason to believe that my great-great-grandfather Fischer served in the Union Army but I’m still on his trail. I know nothing of my great-great-grandfather Bader. My great-great grandfather Schneider was too young to have served in the Civil War and would have been too old for the Spanish-American War even if he’d lived.

My closest relative to have served in the military war my mother’s uncle, my great-uncle Ed Schneider. Ed was one of the fortunate few to have been called up in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was pretty darned old for Vietnam but his skills were needed to keep an old ship running. At least that’s the story that I was told.

6 comments… add one
  • michael reynolds Link

    My father did two tours in Vietnam. He was a career soldier, not a draftee. I was just coming up for eligibility in the last draft lottery and drew a high and safe number. Before I was in the clear the old man was plotting to get me into West Point (unlikely) or failing that, to Canada (I wouldn’t have gone.)

    He was in boats and aside from some supporting fire only had one opportunity if you can call it that to shoot at the enemy. While riding at anchor at night he saw a dark shape climbing aboard and fired his pistol. He still doesn’t know if it was a Vietcong sapper or some kid looking for something to steal.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I don’t believe I have any direct ancestors who died in an American war; though this is the day the Shaws would traditionally travel to where my grandfather was buried. His children had moved away; the three-day weekend was conducive to travel in a way Veteran’s Day was not.

    My grandfather was a draftee, conscripted at a rather older age (with two children) because of the large number of German-Americans associated with peace churches where he lived in Western Illinois. Nonetheless, he took the opportunity to go to business school at Northwestern after the war — the first in my family to go to college. I barely knew him; my dad makes almost sound like he went to college for spite.

  • My dad (b. 1914) was a lawyer; my mom (b. 1921) had a masters degree in administration. They each had been the first ones in their respective families to receive an education beyond the fourth grade.

    However, in my dad’s case it wasn’t completely out of whack. He had an uncle who was a lawyer and his grandfather had been a justice of the peace.

  • Susan Glenn Link

    I didn’t know that Daddy was rejected for the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and FBI. How did you know? Through stories, or through letters or other historical documents?

  • I didn’t know that Daddy was rejected for the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and FBI. How did you know?

    You don’t remember the story? Daddy told it with enthusiasm frequently, at every opportunity. Don’t you remember the story about knocking over the eye test sign?

  • PD Shaw Link

    BTW/ I won’t repeat my questioning of Blight’s piece from Alex’s OTB post, but I like how you describe Charleston as “possibly” the first Decoration Day. I think Blight has moved from accomplished, award winning historian with a point of view, to something more opinionated.

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