By RALPH DOTTERER JR.
Social media has become a worldwide bulletin board for all classes of users to share information. People sometimes post subjects they find interesting and informative.
A post that comes to my mind is a drawing of a flower vase. Upon closer examination, the viewer might see a face, along with a mirror image of that same face, looking back at it.
If we would only take a moment to look around us and study what we see. It’s surprising what might come into your mind.
So it was when my wife and I stopped to see the Traveling Memorial Wall outside State College recently.
This Wall is a scaled-down version of a permanent Memorial Wall, which has the engraved names of those who died in the Vietnam War.
From a distance, while walking from the parking lot, this Wall reminded me of another wall. It was almost 50 years ago at Penn State. It was a wall of riot shields, held by armed men, with stoic faces and standing in silence.
Facing them only a few feet away was a mob of angry young adults. Some were screaming obscenities at the police. Others shouted about their hatred for the military and our governmental leaders.
This was the anti-war craze that took over the nation’s streets and college campuses. It was also a time of the “cultural revolution” and racial unrest.
During these turbulent times, young men were being drafted at the rate of about 30,000 per month to fight and possibly die in a messy war halfway around the world … a war that seemed to have no end, an elusive and relentless enemy, along with an unstable government in South Vietnam.
As I walked along the Wall’s panels, I would often stop and read some of the names to myself.
I thought of the “point man” on daily patrols into the hostile countryside who cautiously studied the terrain, often risking his life to ensure the safety of the platoon.
At the base of some wall panels were mementos left by family or friends to honor certain names.
There are so many young men who were about my age at the time of their death. Many didn’t survive to be fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
But these brave individuals continued to be committed to their task, even to the point of death. Despite our government’s ill-placed obsessions. Despite the many Americans who began sympathizing with the Vietcong and hating our own troops.
I wondered what it was like for President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, where he was to have a small part in dedicating a new war memorial.
Some months before Lincoln’s address there, the clash between fellow Americans generated over 50,000 casualties, in a three-day battle. Other than a few, many would be nameless to history.
In the ongoing Civil War, President Lincoln was willing to do whatever he had to do, within reason, to defeat the South. His goal, contrary to some of his advisors, was to bring the war to an end so he could begin the process of a welcoming reunification.
Others wanted to continue the oppression after the Civil War ended so to punish rebellious, white southerners.
Doesn’t this scenario describe our current political system?
Politicians (political soldiers) divided over the agenda of the Left or Right, waging the epic battle of gridlock, and punishing the losing party after an election battle?
Abraham Lincoln’s brief speech at Gettysburg that day has a message for all of us, even in today’s culture. Because we are still a nation of cultural divisions, racial issues, political turmoil, and soldiers dying on the battlefields.
Whether it was 150 years ago, or even 50 years ago, or even last year, we’re still trying to get things right.
In part, President Lincoln said this at Gettysburg that day: “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 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.
Our culture, like many previous cultures, make statues and create memorials to honor those who exhibit greatness. Their great feats are not limited in scope of application. Many people don’t set out to be great, but circumstances call for them to take the “point” position … as with the Las Vegas shootings, where some heroes didn’t take time to assess the risks or rewards before taking action.
Now we’ve had a mass shooting in Texas, where one of the church’s neighbors armed himself and took on the shooter to stop the slaughter.
Those who achieve greatness often see beyond the present to a place where we need to be. True greatness is an honor to be given for a selfless act, not a self-serving venture.
Jesus told his follower this, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
What more could anyone give when they lay their life on the line for the rest of us? The challenge now in our current culture is to put the love of self and the love of things behind us … or we will be building future memorials to those who — in apathy for others — take a knee.
(Ralph Dotterer Jr. is a lifelong Nittany Valley farmer, hayseed philosopher and barnyard artist whose roots in the same soil go back almost 200 years.)