Thursday, May 31, 2007

Valor worth commemorating

Published 5.31.2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Why write about something that happened 12 years ago?"

So went part of a reader's e-mail critique of one of my prior columns. To some, there is little value today in citing dates, events or people from a mere decade ago, let alone 14 decades ago.

At this year's Memorial Day service in Delafield, about 100 observers begged to differ. The event was the Cushing Park Memorial Day service, with a speech delivered by Rick Gross, who along with a half-dozen or so other members of the Cushing Historical Association addressed a crowd to commemorate the military service of four brothers during the American Civil War.

Three of the Cushing brothers were born in southeastern Wisconsin (two in Delafield, one in Milwaukee), and a fourth was born in Columbus, Ohio. On a resplendent spring day at Cushing Park, Gross and his colleagues wore period costumes to portray the kind of Union soldiers they were honoring, to speak of sacrifices made long ago and to fire four thundering cannon blasts to commemorate the Cushings' military service.

Ron Aronis, who portrayed the Union battery commander, has been participating in re-enactments since 1965. I asked him why he felt it was important to re-create and memorialize the military service of those gone for so very long.

Aronis replied, "If we don't remember, we tend to repeat history, which isn't always the best; you need to know what your country's been through. Have we always loved each other? Have we always hated each other?"

Gross, who is a design engineer by trade and who mentioned that he had a bit part in the 1993 movie "Gettysburg," had a simpler answer: He gives his time for these events because he enjoys "preserving the memory" of the fallen.

On Memorial Day this year, the fallen included Milton, Howard and Alonzo Cushing. William Cushing, like his three brothers, fought valiantly for the Union but, unlike them, did not die in battle. (He died of illness while serving in the Navy.)

Those interested in learning more about the Cushing brothers or to support the Cushing Historical Association, which is a Wisconsin non-profit corporation, can e-mail James Benware at Cushing_recruiter@yahoo.com or phone (262) 306-1279. A related Web site of interest ( http://www.suvcw-wi.org/) is sponsored by the Sons of the Civil War and has a link to Wisconsin's Civil War heritage.

Last year, a Delafield resident complained to the city about the cannon blasts fired at the park. Apparently, the sounds of the charges were frightening the resident's dogs. The blasts, to be sure, are something to hear. The charges I witnessed stripped leaves off of a nearby tree and echoed throughout the park and beyond.

According to one member of the historical association, the permit to fire the blasts this year - a total of six discharged over about 30 minutes, two to begin the service and one for each of the four Cushing brothers - had to be defended before city representatives in order to continue the tradition.

Remembering events and sacrifices made so many years ago strikes me as a worthwhile endeavor, even if it means that I need to comfort my pets for a while or take them on a well-timed walk elsewhere in town.

But that's what makes our land so great; we can disagree on that point without fear of retribution. Unfortunately, such freedoms have never come without the ultimate price being paid by others, many of whom are long forgotten. Here's hoping our memories of war dead linger throughout the ages. Let freedom ring, and may the cannon of Cushing Park never be silenced.