Monday, July 6, 2009

Last Veteran’s Reunion at Gettysburg

Seventy-one years ago, a significant event took place at Gettysburg, that being the 75th anniversary of the battle, and the last reunion of Civil War veterans. In 1913, at the 50th anniversary, over 50,000 veterans attended. However, by 1938, the number of survivors had dwindled to around 10,000. The government offered to provide transportation, and so about 1,900 veterans arrived on 26 trains to celebrate, dressed in their old uniforms, or in coats, vests, and ties, regardless of the stifling heat. Their average age was ninety-four, and they were greeted with a fleet of wheelchairs, 3800 tents, which separated the Rebels from the Yankees (as though the old guys were going to go after each other!), mosquito netting, and 27 cases of whiskey. By the end of the July 3-5 weekend, only the whiskey was in short supply.

During the festivities, a dozen veterans from both sides congregated near a stone wall that had been used as Union breastworks, where they reached across and shook hands. A crowd of 150,000 attended as President Roosevelt dedicated the unveiling of the Peace Monument on Oak Hill. Two Gettysburg veterans, one Confederate, one Union, lowered the American flag to reveal the monument as the Star Spangled Banner was played.

The event, including the dedication, was broadcast on all four radio stations. It is thought that in 1938, the only authentic recording of a Confederate giving the Rebel yell was recorded. By 1952, only two Civil War veterans remained. At present, there are only five verified WWI veterans alive, two of which are Americans. In ten years, the 75th anniversary of D-Day will occur, with fewer WWII veterans alive than who celebrated last month. Sadly, yet inevitably, memories of that battle will eventually be lost, just as the fragility of human existence released those who participated in the battle at Gettysburg.

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