These are just some thoughts that came to me as I was preparing some Veteran's Day activities for my classroom. While I would not even begin to try to imply it is worthy of them, it is written out of appreciation to all of those who played such a significant, yet unheralded, part in our country's history in their willingness to serve and to those who paid the ultimate price to protect and defend.
For All Time, Remembered
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
- Laurence Binyon, "For the Fallen"
The picture had come just like Dan promised. It had taken a while - at least 6 months - but he had sent it just like he said he would. They had gone by quickly these months and they had been good ones - each one bringing with it continued healing for Scott.
It had taken time for him to get back full use of his left arm after Jed Lewis' bullet had found its mark. The bullet's path had torn through muscle and flesh leaving the arm weak and Scott had often been frustrated by it. He'd never complained. He never would. But more than once Johnny had quietly lent a hand when he'd seen Scott struggle or when that familiar squint of pain crossed his brother's face. The help was always received as quietly as it was given, appreciation shown by its mere acceptance. But it was better now and even more important, he was better now, the deeper wounds opened by Cassidy's visit healing with the passing time as well.
They hadn't really spoken about it much since Dan had left but the events of those few days and the raw emotions they had revealed had remained with them and Johnny knew they were very much a part of the reason he and Scott had grown so close in these past 6 months. The trust they shared now had become more and more apparent. They'd both opened up to each other a part of themselves that no one else had ever seen before and it had been something that had surprised both of them but which now almost defined them and their relationship as brothers. That they cared about each other - truly cared - was a given. Unspoken but undeniable - there in a quiet look, a shared smile, the simple touch of a hand. They were brothers but maybe even more than that, they were friends - friends who simply liked each other and wanted to be together.
They had all been together in the Great Room waiting for dinner when the package had come, one of the hands bringing it from town. It was wrapped in brown paper, addressed to Scott. None of them had even thought of the picture until Scott, turning it over a few times in his hands, had said quietly, "It's from Dan."
He'd stood looking at it a long moment more as if contemplating opening it at all, almost as if he knew that by opening it he would be opening far more. The quiet sigh of resignation that accompanied its unwrapping didn't go unnoticed by either Murdoch or Johnny, although they were both quite sure it had gone unnoticed by Scott himself.
The picture was impressive, the uniformed figures commanding full attention from all eyes in the room. They had no trouble finding him, their gaze drawn easily to Scott's tall, lean frame - leaner Johnny thought than even now if that were possible. While most of the men were congregated together in the center of the picture, Scott stood off to the side, his mount behind him, the reins held loosely in those long slender fingers. There was only a whisper of a smile on his face, his steady unwavering gaze bespeaking the quiet, intelligent young man that stood there in the early morning light of that cool Spring day. <He was just a kid too> Johnny thought, almost startled by the realization. He'd known that in his head - he'd done the math before - but now here it was in black and white and that was a whole different thing. That made it real and reminded Johnny again of what had slowly been becoming evident to both of them over these past 10 months or so of knowing each other. They shared more common experiences than ever could have been imagined for a boy from Boston and his long lost brother. Along with that list of so many other things, they had both depended on a gun at a very young age to give the promise of tomorrow and they had both grown up fast because of it.
Johnny had glanced up from the picture in time to catch the display of emotions crossing his father's face as pride blended with the knowledge of what yet lay ahead for this son he had not then known. What father wouldn't be proud of a son standing so straight and tall in uniform, serving his country in a time of great need? What father wouldn't feel anguish and regret over the suffering he knew that son would endure before this war was done?
"When was it taken, son?" Murdoch's quiet question had startled Scott out of his reverie and he shook his head ever so slightly as if clearing his thoughts.
"Early May - '63. We had just reached the Federal lines at Baton Rouge the night before. Grierson was in command of the cavalry there. - Colonel Benjamin Grierson." A slow smile had spread across his face. "The only cavalry commander I ever met who didn't like horses."
Johnny had laughed over that one. "Oh c'mon, Scott. You don't expect us to believe that do you?"
Scott had joined in the laughter. "It's true. - Didn't trust them either. But he was a smart man. I learned a lot from watching him. Grant had wanted us to disrupt things for the Confederates - keep them away from the defense of Vicksburg you know? And Grierson made sure we did. We must have torn up at least 60 miles of track and telegraph wire, not to mention all of the other Confederate supplies we were able to destroy."
Scott had paused then for a moment - sobering. "There was fighting too - my first. There were about 600 Confederate casualties by the time we were done with the raids." His gaze dropped back to the picture he still held in his hands. "That would seem like nothing to me before long."
Silence had hung between them for a brief moment then while Murdoch and Johnny exchanged glances. "It's a good picture, son. One you should be proud of. One your children will cherish some day."
His gaze still intent on the faces before him, Scott ran his fingers lightly over the row of young men standing together in a bond of brotherhood few others would ever be able to understand. "Most of them are gone now." he said quietly.
Murdoch's large hand had come to rest gently on his son's shoulder. "Is it difficult? To see them? To remember?"
"No. It's good to remember. I would never want to forget. Not them. Not what they did. Not what they gave."
They'd been interrupted then by the call to dinner and the picture had been carefully placed on Murdoch's big desk. Conversation at the table had flowed as always from the events of the day to the plans for tomorrow. There had been laughter, debate and that easy banter between men that comes with familiarity and respect.
Their usual routine would have found them having coffee together in front of the fire where the conversation of the dinner table would have continued, finalizing the next days activities, until a challenge of chess or checkers was extended by one or the other. But tonight Scott had excused himself, heading out instead into the quiet of the evening by himself. Neither Johnny nor Murdoch had asked him about it. They understood. Only now it was dark, it was late, and as far as Johnny was concerned, it was time to remind his brother he wasn't alone.
He rose quietly. "Think I'll go check on Barranca - make sure he's alright before turnin' in."
Murdoch glanced up from his book, taking in his son's retreating form with a gentle look of paternal understanding. "Barranca, huh?"
An easy smile crossed the young man's face as he edged toward the door. "Yeah - Barranca - or anyone else who might be out there in the dark needin' checkin' on."
Despite his best efforts, the carefully concealed grin revealed itself in Murdoch's eyes. "I was wondering how long it was going to take you." And then he added warmly, "You've been patient."
His son's smile widened. "Yeah, well, somebody we know must be wearin' off on me." And with that the door closed.
Johnny was right to look for his brother down by the horses. Scott stood with his back to him, his long arms folded along the top rail of the paddock as he leaned into it, his gaze wandering off into the quiet night. Johnny smiled to himself. His brother did have an affinity for horses. It had been one of the first things he had learned about his newfound brother those 10 months ago. The very first thing that had caused that twinge of admiration and respect to impose itself on his preconceived notions about this city boy from back east. He smiled again at the thought. He'd always prided himself on his ability to evaluate a man quickly and correctly but dang if he hadn't been wrong on this one. The smile warmed. Good thing too. He'd be eternally grateful for that one.
Assuming the same position as his brother, Johnny stood quietly next to him, their elbows almost touching. Neither moved or said a word for a long moment, comfortable just to be in each other's company. The night was quiet, an endless blanket of stars adding to its tranquility and their contentment.
"You've been out here a long time. Everything okay?"
Scott nodded. "Everything's fine, just listening to the quiet."
Looking over at his brother Johnny smiled. "You like that, don't you? - the quiet I mean."
Scott seemed to consider this remark carefully as he gently shrugged his shoulders. "I never thought about it really. I suppose I do. Although," he added, a mischievous grin playing across his face, "there is a time and place for everything."
Johnny returned his brother's smile with a laugh. "Yeah. I can agree with that." He waited a moment before adding, "I suppose you didn't get much quiet during the war though, huh?"
A slight frown crossed Scott's face. "Sometimes, actually, it felt like I got too much. Battlefields can be very loud, but they can be eerily quiet too."
Johnny nodded. He'd seen a few battlefields of his own - battlefields of sorts at least - and he knew how the quiet could hang over them when the fighting was done. "I suppose." He paused briefly before asking his next question, not quite sure if he even should, but wanting to know, if for no other reason, than to know his brother better.
"Did it get pretty bad?"
Scott didn't answer right away. He had never really tried to explain it to anyone before - had never really wanted to. It was something he had always felt few could understand unless they had been there themselves. Oh, he'd talked about some of the lighter things that had happened - the jokes they'd played on each other, the chances they'd taken and laughed about later - but never the battles. But for some reason - tonight - talking to his brother - the words seemed to come easier.
"The final campaign was. I came east when General Sheridan took command of the cavalry corps under Grant. That was April of'64. Grant was determined that this was going to be it. He was going to force an end no matter how hard fought it might be." Scott considered for a moment. "That's what was different between Grant and all of the others before him. Win or lose, he just kept pressing on."
He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, quietly. "We met the Confederates at a place called the Wilderness. It was no place for a battle. It was so thick with trees and underbrush, you could barely see, especially as the fighting increased. The smoke from all of the powder just kind of hung like a fog over the whole place it was so thick. Most of the time you never saw the men you were fighting until you were already under heavy fire. And the noise - Johnny, it was unbelievable."
"How long did it last?"
"It never really stopped - at least it didn't seem like it. By that first night the woods were on fire. I think that was the worst. You could hear the wounded laying out there, calling for help as they burned to death, but you couldn't give it. We fought all the next day with no victory for either side really - just horrible casualties -and then moved about 10 miles south to a place called Spotsylvania - Spotsylvania Court House. The fighting was even worse there if that was possible. It went on for 10 straight days, at one point so bad the men named the place they were fighting the Bloody Angle." Scott shifted. "I can still see it, you know? Still hear it. - Sometimes I think I can even still smell it. - I remember thinking this had to be what hell was like."
Johnny kept his eyes fixed on Scott's face. "Did the fighting stay that bad?"
Scott was silent for a moment then nodded his head slowly, thoughtfully. "By all accounts it did."
"By all accounts?"
Johnny watched the change come over Scott then. His brother's eyes, only moments before dark and flashing with the tale of the battle, had suddenly softened to the gentle blue-gray gaze he was so familiar with. A gaze that right now was looking through him to a time and place far away - a time and place that only Scott was privy to.
Scott glanced down in that quiet way of his - only this time he didn't look up right away. "I wasn't there," he said simply. "Spotsylvania was the last action I saw."
They were quiet then. It was all that needed to be said and Johnny wasn't about to ask for more. That was another story - for another day. Enough had been remembered today - enough had been shared.
"So many good men died there, Johnny, - from both sides, officers and enlisted men alike, for a cause they believed so strongly in."
They stood in the quiet together, each grateful for the other's reassuring presence. "A lot of good men lived too Scott." Johnny's voice was soft as he slowly released a quiet breath. "I wish I had known you back then. I would have been proud of my big brother."
Scott looked up and met his brother's gaze with his own steady one - that quiet look.
"I'm proud of him now."
They smiled - that shared smile.
Before turning for the house, Johnny's arm slid up across his brother's back as Scott caught him gently around the neck - that simple touch
Late that night - long after hearing his sons come in calling their good-nights to him - a grateful father stood before the dying embers of the day's fire, his gaze fixed on the newly acquired picture which now graced his mantle. His eyes traveled from face to face as he studied them once more - these boys - so young - so brave - so sure, coming to rest finally on that one he loved so deeply. His son. With a heart full of gratitude for this son who had been spared, he raised his glass in a silent toast to all of those who had not.
"They will not be forgotten, son," he promised. "They will always be, for all time, remembered."
"War, at the best, is terrible, and this war of ours, in its magnitude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible. It has carried mourning to almost every home, until it can almost be said that the 'heavens are hung in black'." -Abraham Lincoln