Lest We Forget

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Jeffrey here, writing from Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Today, Memorial Day, Joey is silent.

Above you see an old image of the memorial arch in my native village.  Among other inscriptions, it bears the names of locals who died in U.S. military service.  World War 2 was the first war in which battle, not disease, caused most U.S. military deaths. That’s a big marble arch for a small town.

Why bother to remember these names?  They’re just names.  No one alive actually recalls most of the people named on that arch.  The people themselves are or soon will be utterly forgotten, just like everyone else who ever lived or ever will live.

Remembering even the dead themselves – the actual dead, not just their names – does not help the dead.  “Gone is gone,” my late Aunt Jean would say.

So let’s help the living if we can.  Memories do good if they push us to act.

Abraham Lincoln understood this.  In his Second Inaugural Address in 1865, Lincoln did not talk about “American exceptionalism” – he saw the Civil War as God’s punishment to North and South for establishing and perpetuating slavery.  He called not for remembering the dead, but for caring for living veterans, and for veterans’ widows and orphans.  At Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 – a memorial day that long predated Memorial Day – Lincoln did not thank the dead for their “service” – he focused on the living:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here 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.

On this day of barbecues and shopping and (for most Americans) but a few moments of thinking about the military dead, maybe we should resolve to show the living our thanks by ending the use of our military as a tool for politicians’ ambitions.  (You think this is harsh?  Look up Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, whose 16 medals included two Medals of Honor.  He wrote a book entitled, War is a Racket.)  Maybe instead of thanking veterans for losing their limbs or their minds for causes they did not choose, and that hurt our country, we should apologize to our living veterans, give them and their families (as a right, from our government collective, not as a gift from private charities) everything they need to heal.  Let us work to make military service, to borrow a phrase from the pro-choice movement, “safe, legal, and rare.”

We saw a lot today, and talked to many people.  Some highlights:

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Beautiful Connecticut.

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No wonder old time New England farmers were poor. Stone fences lined this Connecticut road and stretched into the fields as far as I could see. The stones were taken from those fields! Note the bird taking wing.

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Connecticut cows.

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Just past a sign that said “Town Line”, I deduced from parked cars’ license plates that we had entered Rhode Island. Nice boat!

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Rhode Island farm.

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Rhode Island road. I put up with miles and miles of this. Some roads were good, with great shoulders and Bike Route signs, but sand and gravel from winter road treatment made the shoulders dangerous. On some steep uphills – there were many! – my rear tire (on the drivewheel) lost traction and spun.

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Alpaca farm.

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The circa 1765 dam.

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Historic Rhode Island cemetery. The flagged headstone names Sanford Burton, who died 127 years ago at age 78. He had been a drummer for the 9th Rhode Island Volunteers, presumably during the Civil War. Someone carefully placed a flag by his headstone. Mr. Burton doesn’t care, and no living person remembers him at all.

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The sculpture and the address (on Nooseneck Hill Road) were irresistible.

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Ted the Toolman flagged me down and gave me a bottle of icewater. He knows about kangaroo courts; he was fired for whistleblowing. A few days after he started a new job, he was given a 20% raise. He’s a good guy, and a good guy to know.

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How’s that for a New England menu?

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Exhausted from hill climbing and too many terrible roads, what a relief to find this 11-mile paved bike route. It went through several towns.

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Patuxent River. Look carefully and you’ll see the falls.

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More Patuxent River, from the bike path. Rhode Island was prominent in America’s early industrialization.

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Providence. The Armory is an impressive building in a neighborhood in decline. People I passed were friendly, though, and excited to see a visitor on an exotic machine.

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Providence art district. Some of this area sparkles, and the old buildings are grand and well-kept. But today the area was nearly deserted.

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Brown University. I’d never been there . . . nor up the remarkably high steep hill leading to it from downtown Providence.

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A very long fence made of huge stones borders Providence’s 200-acre Swan Point Cemetery, adjacent to Pawtucket, which bills itself as the birthplace of the U.S. Industrial Revolution.

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Rhode Island ice cream, medium size.

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Besa, who has degrees in philosophy and environmental sustainability, and spouse Karen, a health care management professional. We had a great chat when I arrived at a motel in Pawtucket, and we exchanged photos.

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Safe!

7 thoughts on “Lest We Forget

  1. Good soft ice cream from Rhode Island, eh?? Nice to cross those (state) borders so easily. huh? Seems like these start off traveldays are the best weather starts in all your trips….Good for you.

  2. Jeff, Delighted that your trip has been going well so far and hope it continues that way. I enjoy reading your blog and thought your memorial day presentation was outstanding. Popop

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Glad to hear the two of you are safe. New England is a beautiful part of our country. I’m afraid you’ll meet hills, longer and steeper in Vermont. Many moons ago my sister and I rode our bikes through Vermont staying in hostels and camping along the way.
    This is an awesome way to see the country. Our prayers go with you on your noble journey.
    Barb Glumac

  4. A fair topic for comment would be the status of Americas infrastructure. Seeing things well built to last must be stark contrast to the shape we have allowed our infrastructure to be in.

  5. Hi Jeffrey – I am enjoying following your travels through New England! It’s extraordinary that you have taken on this journey and it seriously motivates me to do more! I’ll continue my virtual trip with you. Safe travels!

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