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May 29, 2021

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have considered what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to Upstate Warrior Solution, 101 West St. John Street, Suite 17, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306, (864) 520-2073.

Writing for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal on May 18, 2021, Chris Lavender reports on the long journey of Upstate veteran Ralph Boughman back to his home. For more than seventy years, it was unknown by his family where Corporal Boughman’s remains were located after he was killed in battle during the Korean War in 1950.

Boughman, of Union county, joined the Army in August 1948 at Fort Jackson in Columbia. Ralph Boughman was only nineteen years old at the time. After completing basic training, he was transferred to Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington, and then to Japan for a year before heading to Korea with the United States Army’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 32 Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

Boughman’s unit was attacked on December 2, 1950, by Chinese troops near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He did not survive the fighting, but Boughman was reported missing in action since his body could not be found. On December 21, 1953, he was declared dead. The location of his body was unknown.

As the years passed, so, too, did other family members. His remains were identified in 2020 and were returned home after 70 years to be interred at Rosemont Cemetery in Union.

Of Ralph’s nine siblings, Pansy Boughman Bourne, 89, of Union is the last remaining living sibling. She was grateful to see her brother’s remains finally return home. During the memorial service, the American flag, draped on her brother’s casket, was folded and given to her at the graveside.

Bourne said. “It is great and wonderful he is here at last and just a few miles from the home place.”

During the funeral service, several family members spoke about Ralph’s life on the farm near Santuc, where he worked and enjoyed roaming the 180 acres. When he got older, he worked with his father in the lumber business, helping out at the sawmill.

As an American holiday, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. Memorial Day 2021 will be on Monday, May 31.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

The American Civil War ended in the spring of 1865. By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.

Some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday in May, honors the men and women who died while serving in the military. This solemn occasion is a time to reflect on these American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and defending the country they deeply loved.

President Abraham Lincoln was a man of few but eloquent words. His oratory gifts are best remembered in his public speeches. The sixteenth president was also a linguistic master, as revealed in his private correspondence.

After the war had ended, the Bixby letter, a brief correspondence of consolation, was sent by President Lincoln in November 1864 to Lydia Parker Bixby, a widow living in Boston, Massachusetts. She was reported to have lost five sons serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. Along with the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, the letter has been praised as one of Lincoln’s finest written works.

Controversy surrounds the recipient, the fate of her sons, and the authorship of the letter. Bixby’s character has been questioned, including rumored Confederate sympathies. At least two of her sons survived the war. The letter was possibly written by Lincoln’s assistant private secretary, John Hay.

President Lincoln’s letter of condolence was delivered to Lydia Bixby on November 25, 1864.  It was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Evening Traveller.

Executive Mansion,

Washington, November 21, 1864.

             Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

For Memorial Day, our family displays an American flag. We call to mind those who have served in the military among our forebears. My grandfather was in the Navy. Clare’s dad was in the Marine Corps and served on a hospital ship. Four of my Neely uncles served during World War II.  One was the Normandy Invasion. Two flew bombing missions over Germany. Another served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater. Clare had uncles in Europe. I had two uncles in Korea and another in post-war Germany. Two of my uncles were prisoners of war in Germany.

I recall the words of General Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg. “It is good that war is so terrible. Otherwise, we would grow found of it.”

At that same battle, Sergeant Richard Kirkland of South Carolina became known as the Angel of Marye’s Heights for his courageous decision to give water and comfort to wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate. The firing ceased from both sides, blue and gray, as Kirkland went about his mission. He didn’t stop until he had been to every fallen soldier.

General Mark Clark, who was retired and living in Charleston, South Carolina, when he received a telephone call from Utah, telling him about the death of Eldon Borgstrom.  It reminded the old soldier of “the bravest and most inspiring Americans I have ever met.” He talked about it with a Charleston Evening Post reporter.

On June 26, 1948,  Clark, who had commanded the Fifth Army in brutal World War II fighting in Italy, now had the duty of supervising the return of bodies of the war’s dead to their families.

When he learned that the remains of four Borgstrom brothers were to be buried in Garland, Utah, he flew there in tribute to the family’s sacrifice.  He knew, too, that the Borgstroms had two other sons; one in the Marine Corps and the youngest, Eldon, 18, who was living at home on the family farm.

General Clark sat between the parents in a small Mormon church before the flag-draped caskets of four of their sons.  All were killed in combat; one with the Fifth Army in Italy, one in France, one in Germany, and one in the Pacific.

The General described his experience with the Borgstrom family:

“As the four flag-draped caskets were lined up in front of us in the church where I sat between those superbly brave parents. I was deeply impressed by their calmness, understanding, deep faith, and pride in their magnificent sons, who had made the supreme sacrifice for principles instilled in them by their noble parents since childhood.  They faced their suffering with courage I have never seen surpassed.”

He then sat with them at lunch, and the boys’ mother said to him, almost in a whisper, “Are they going to take Eldon?”

“I turned to her and whispered back, “I have to tell you that Eldon is subject to being drafted, but as long as I am in command of this area, I will do everything possible to see to it that he is stationed right here at home.”

“Just then, the father interrupted. ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t help but hear your conversation with the general, and I want you both to know that I will make no deals about Eldon’s service.  If his country needs him, he will go.’”

Clark remembered, “I could hardly contain my emotions. Here was a man with four sons lying dead from wounds received in battle and another in service. Yet, he was ready to make the last sacrifice if his county required it.  He was the personification of true Americanism.”

Beyond picnics and parades, above baseball and patriotic concerts, Memorial Day gives us two ways to express our appreciation for our country. The first is to honor those who have served this country well.

In the Gettysburg address, President Lincoln said: “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The second way Memorial Day allows us to offer our gratitude is to remember the families of those who served and our responsibility to do our part.

In his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln said: With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Clare joins me in wishing each of you a blessed Memorial Day.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at

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