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THE MEANING OF MEMORIAL DAY

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 kirkhneely44@gmail.com.

THE FULL MOON IN MAY

May 23, 2021

Note to readers: On Sunday, May 30, Memorial Day weekend, this ‘By the Way’ column will move from the Sports Section to the Arts and Leisure Section of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.  Please look for us there.

During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering 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 Forever, a land conservation and advocacy organization that protects critical lands, abundant waters, and the unique character of the Upstate of South Carolina. 201 East Broad Street. Suite 1C, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29306, (864) 327-0090.

In the spring of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic and on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I took six grandchildren fishing at a local farm pond. I insisted that the daddies go with their children. We had a great time! Every grandchild and almost every adult caught fish, mostly pan-sized bream. This grandfather spent most of his time baiting hooks and untangling lines. What joy!

The full moon in May is called the full flower moon in the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It is the name used by several Native American tribes. May’s full moon was also called mother’s moon, milk moon, and corn planting moon. In May, the full moon marked a time of increasing fertility, with temperatures usually warm enough for safely bearing young, an end to late frosts, and plants in bloom.

The light of a silvery moon may provide the inspiration for a budding romance, but the full moon in May is the right time for bream fishing in our neck of the woods. This year the full moon will appear on May 26, prime time for fishing.

Even a novice angler can fill a Sheetrock mud bucket half full of bluegill and shellcrackers after fishing only a few hours.  Jigging with a cane pole from the bank or spin casting from a johnboat is equally effective. Crickets or red worms on a long-shank hook flipped into a bream bed are sure to provide a tasty supper of fresh panfish.

In May several years ago, one of our sons, his father-in-law, and I took our oldest grandson fishing on the full moon. We stopped at our local bait shop for red worms and Louisiana pinks. On that day, the bream had an appetite for Cajun fare. The tough, pink worms from the bayou were the main entrée.

The three adults on the trip had made a secret agreement. We wanted the young boy to land the first fish. It didn’t take long. Standing on the grassy bank of a well-kept private pond, our grandson landed a hand-sized bluegill. Two hours later, the four of us had forty-two bream in the bucket. Our grandson, of course, caught the most.

It took us nearly an hour to clean the fish, a messy process that is best done near the water’s edge. We used a cutting board positioned on the tailgate of my truck.

For supper that night, my good friend Carl Bostick, the other grandfather, fried the fish caught earlier that day. The sweet taste of pan-fried bream with hush puppies and coleslaw enjoyed outside under a full moon is the perfect way to end a day of fishing.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac identifies these spring days as an irresistible time for bream fishing. Even seasoned bass masters can be lured away from their plastic worms rigged on weedless hooks and artificial baits armed with treble hooks.  As exciting as landing an eight-pound largemouth bass is, ounce for ounce, snagging a feisty bream offers a fight beyond compare.  Besides, largemouth bass fishermen tend to be large-mouthed. The simplicity of bream fishing is a humble endeavor that is good for the soul.

The week after Christmas, citizens who know the finer nuances of bream fishing load their pickup trucks with Fraser firs, red cedars, and other discarded Christmas trees that have been lain on the side of the road like fallen soldiers.  Rather than leaving these trees to be gathered and ground into mulch, dedicated anglers haul them to their favorite farm pond and sink them in the cold waters of winter.  A clump of Christmas trees anchored on the bottom of a pond becomes a bream bed where fish find cover in the branches.

Also important to the experienced bream angler is the catalpa tree.  “Say catalpa, not Catawba,” an avid fisherman once told me.  “Catawba is the name of a river and a tribe of Indians.  Catalpa is the tree.”  Actually, catalpa is an Indian word that means soft wood.  This tree’s whorl of purple blossoms in the spring attracts the female sphinx moth to lay her eggs at night on the large green leaves.  When the larvae hatch, those leaves provide food for hundreds of catalpa worms.

Catalpa worms are the premier bream bait.  They’ve got a tough skin that holds a hook far better than either crickets or red worms.  One fisherman bragged that he had caught six bluegills on the same worm. He added, “A catalpa worm to a bream is ‘bout like a T-bone steak is to me.  It’s just too good to turn down.”

After a full moon in May several years ago, a fishing buddy and I went to a farm pond late one afternoon.  After about an hour, the only bites I had were from mosquitoes.  We quietly paddled the johnboat across the pond to a large bream bed. Fishing around the outside margin of the bed, we left the center of the bed undisturbed so as not to incite widespread bream panic. Using catalpa worms, we caught a bream on almost every cast, keeping only the fish we intended to clean and eat.  By dark, our basket was heavy with shellcrackers and bluegills.  With only the light of a nearly full moon, we continued fishing, setting the hook whenever we heard or felt the bream hit. 

Throughout the evening, bullfrogs, crickets, and a solitary whip-poor-will treated us to a concert.  The fragrance of honeysuckle wafted on a cool breeze.  Moonlight glistened on the water, and stars flickered faintly in the sky.  After fishing, we cleaned the bream and put our catch on ice.  We secured the johnboat to the trailer and headed for home. 

My friend reflected, “I needed this.”  I agreed. I needed it, too.

The psalmist David wrote, “He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul” (Psalm 23). Bream fishing is healing to the spirit; it is refreshing to the soul. Fishing, which requires patient timing, helps to reset our internal clock and restore the rhythm of life to a slower pace.

Driving home that night under the full moon, we said very little to each other.  My friend broke the silence.  “This must be why those first disciples were fisherman.”  

“Maybe so,” I commented.

In 2013 I was not fishing on the full moon in May. A young lady in our family was getting married. Though among our kith and kin, she holds the record for the largest bream ever landed, she wasn’t fishing that weekend either. Our daughter, Betsy, was a beautiful bride, and I was the officiating pastor. Her catch of the day was much bigger than her record bluegill and far better.

She has always been a good angler. As much as she enjoys fishing, on that weekend, she had bigger fish to fry.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com       

THE DAY OF PENTECOST

May 22, 2021

You are cordially invited to a birthday celebration on Sunday, May 23, 2021.  We are celebrating what some calculate to be the 1,991 birthday of the Christian Church.

The day will be Pentecost Sunday. In many Christian traditions, clergy don red vestments and stoles, and Church members wear red attire. Other congregations ignore the significance of the day, oblivious to the liturgical calendar, the ecclesiastical equivalent to forgetting a wedding anniversary.

Pentecost is a day to acknowledge one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed on the Christian Church. This is a day of power. Today we remember a frightened, disoriented group of disciples bereaved by the departure of their Master, left alone, abandoned, and powerless.  Then suddenly, they were no longer alone. They had not been abandoned after all. And, by God, they were empowered.

The wind blew at gale force. Fire fell from heaven, not to consume them, but to ignite them as if they were the burning bushes of Moses, the ones through whom God could now speak. The Spirit descended like a flock of doves perching on each one of the disciples. Now they were anointed, emboldened, equipped, and encouraged to make a difference in the world.

Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church, is a day for balloons, party hats, noisemakers, and ice cream and cake. This is a day for laughter, music, and dancing. This is a joyful day of celebration.

Pentecost is a time for gifts. God grants to each of us spiritual gifts as varied as befits our diversity. On Pentecost, our gracious God gives us presents, and God gives us presence, God’s invisible presence as the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God visits us, sparking in us, rekindling within us the freedom and the power of creativity, inviting us to join God Almighty in recreating this world. It is a time to paint or draw, to play an instrument or sing a song, to write a poem or a letter of encouragement. It is a day to allow the Spirit of God to guide our creative Spirit to express joy and gladness.

On this Pentecost, hear the good news attributed to the Apostle Paul. 

            Now the Lord is the Spirit;

and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

                                      2 Corinthians 3:17

Originally, Pentecost was a Jewish feast that concluded the fifty days of Passover.  It celebrated the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest.  At Pentecost, Jewish people marked God’s gift of the Torah.  It commemorated the time when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.

According to the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus observed the Passover with His disciples in the Upper Room, God sent His Holy Spirit.  On that day, the Spirit of God descended upon a group of disciples hiding in fear behind locked doors.  The power of the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak clearly to the multitude of people gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.  Remarkably, though Peter preached in the accent of a Galilean fisherman, people of many languages understood him.  Three thousand people were converted, and the early Church was born. 

Ever since, the Christian Church has celebrated Pentecost fifty days after Easter.  The symbols of Pentecost are wind, and fire, and a dove.  The wind and fire come from the account in Acts.  The dove is a symbol of God’s Spirit from the baptism of Jesus.

Last week, I spoke with a man who is a recent widower. His wife of forty-six years died of the COVID-19 virus just before Christmas. His children had completely forgotten his February birthday.  He was seventy-five years old. 

“My wife always remembered my birthday and reminded the children.  They forgot because she was not here to remind them.”

One of the most important days on the Christian calendar, Pentecost, often is overlooked. It celebrates the incredible gift of God’s Spirit to the Church.  Even if you are worshipping by live stream at home, I suggest that you wear something red.  In liturgical churches, priests and clergy wear vestments of red on Pentecost Sunday.  The Free Church tradition teaches that we are all priests to each other.  Let’s wear something red. 

Plan a family meal together, maybe a picnic.  Use a red tablecloth, red plates, and cups, and celebrate the birthday in your home with a red velvet cake and strawberry ice cream.  Read together the story of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Above all, remember that the gift God gave nearly 2000 years ago is a gift that is still available. His Holy Spirit is our constant companion, our comfort and strength, and the source of our hope and joy.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear,

but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

                                 2 Timothy 1:7

Celebrate the birthday of the Church.  A gift would be appropriate, made payable to your own Church.  By the way, the cake and ice cream can be any kind and any flavor you choose. 

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com