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Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Monday, May 26, 2014

Darryl ManzerI’ll not forget the high school students who reenacted a Civil War battle when I lived in Virginia. Some of the parents were concerned their son or daughter might have to be a “damned Yankee.” Actually that brought a few laughs, because everyone realized it was a history lesson.

This week the Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School held a Civil War reenactment. Some people were upset, thinking their son or daughter could have to participate in something like this and they would have to play the part of a Confederate soldier or citizen.

There were similar questions when I lived in Virginia – only my friends there were worried that their children might have to portray a “damned Yankee.”

Born in 1950, I grew up here in the SCV playing “Army” at Hart Park and in Pico Canyon. We had toy guns and web belts with canteens and ammunition pouches. We could buy all of that stuff in Newhall.

I have to admit, I was a little confused when I started into Hart High School and found out I was an Indian. Thinking back, it seems we all spent time being either a cowboy or an Indian when we played with our bow and arrows, six-gun cap pistols, and whatever else.

Drawing depicts the Army of Northern Virginia stacking weapons in surrender. Image: National Park Service.

Drawing depicts the Army of Northern Virginia stacking weapons in surrender. Image: National Park Service.

I don’t think those toy guns and playing war did much to affect those of us who did so. By the 1960s, we were the generation that marched in massive anti-war protests all over the country. We were also the generation that went to Vietnam. More than 58,000 of us died there. We were beginning to realize that in war, people died. It wasn’t charging up the hill at Hart Park.

I’m a veteran. Memorial Day is not a day for living veterans. That day is in November. Today is the day we recognize those who have died for each and every one of us. Memorial Day is for the dead.

We do all sorts of things to celebrate or honor those who have died. Camping. Swimming. Barbecue grills filled with good things to eat. We fish and drink and play games on the lawn with our kids. Don’t forget those long hours in traffic to get to someplace, and the long hours’ drive back.

Stores have special sales in honor of “the veterans who have served.” It seems we do everything we can, except what the day was originally supposed to be: a day set aside to be a memorial for those who have given their last great measure of sacrifice to our country.

But that is not what we are doing.

My folks tended to call it “Decoration Day” because that was the day when the graves of our fallen soldiers were to be decorated with flowers and flags. It is thought that the tradition of decorating those graves was started in the former Confederate states … except that in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, from a former Confederate state (Texas), issued a proclamation that stated Waterloo, Iowa, was where it began.

And so the argument still continues. Confederate and Union memorials were combined for most all by 1870. Wounds within the country were healing. We realized the dead have no allegiance. They are all Americans. That fact became clear in how people wrote and spoke about our country before and after that Civil War.

Before Appomattox, when folks spoke about the United States, it was as if the states were separate sovereign entities and we would say, “The United States ARE.” Following the war, in the spirit of unity, people wrote of the country saying, “The United States IS.” Those 625,000 deaths from the Civil War changed us from a plural to a singular. No matter which side in that conflict, our country became truly united as one. The UNITED States of America.

So if your kid wants to wear a Confederate uniform at a reenactment … why not? Those men who died in that war were Americans, too.

It is a day to remember those who fell, so that we may be citizens of the United States of America. Locally we will gather at Eternal Valley Memorial Park this morning at 10. Please attend if you can.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

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5 Comments

  1. J Schwartz says:

    Well said, and thanks.

  2. P Mencuri says:

    A DAY TO REMEMBER THOSE WHO GAVE ALL, NOT THE KICKOFF TO SUMMER.

  3. hbbill says:

    Is anyone surprised that most folks today get it wrong when it comes to this day? For quite some time they have taught very little REAL history let alone military history. To most this is just a day to celebrate another eight hours off from work with maybe a barbeque thrown in.

    To prove a point, just this day my wife and I went out for dinner and a movie. As we were paying the bill for dinner, the young waiter wished us a happy Memorial Day and asked if I was a vet. Upon finding out I was, he was very profuse in his thanks for my service.

    Less than twenty minutes later I got pretty much the same treatment at a nearby Barnes and Nobel by yet another young person. I did not correct either one as I felt they were sincere in their thanks but couldn’t help thinking…. “I ain’t dead yet.”

  4. Dr. Arnold M. Huskins says:

    Thank you for composing this article which needs to published far and wide! Political correctness is killing this country!

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