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The Unknown Soldier’s Name May Be Forgotten, But His Sacrifice Should Not

USA flag on tombstone
Image CreditChad Madden/Unsplash

America has fought in battles whose names we may not remember, fought by men whose names will never make it into history books.

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During the “recent unpleasantness” of 2021, I was lucky enough to live in a state whose shelter-in-place directives were not as severe as others. Already being someone not accustomed to sitting around, I began to take road or bike trips by myself or with my kids out into the more rural (and more sensible) areas outside the Twin Cities. While on those trips I would take the time to stop and admire local sites such as scenic areas, monuments, churches, and most often, cemeteries. Some of those cemeteries were along the side of the road, some were in the middle of large fields, and some were hidden away forests that I came upon by pure chance while riding on hunter’s trails. Almost all of them were old, as in before Minnesota was even a state.

One such cemetery I came across was the St. Louis Cemetery, located next to a crop field in the Wheatland Township established in 1860. At its entrance, there was a sign that told the history of the cemetery and of two of its more notable figures interred there.

One was Joseph Jack Frazer (1806-1869) and the other was Amabe Crispin (1849-1867). Frazer was the son of a British fur trader and a Dakota woman who was a farmer and trapper before becoming a scout and interpreter for the U.S. Army. He fought at the Battle of New Ulm which was part of the Dakota Wars in Minnesota in 1862. Amabe Crispin was a member of the 2nd Minnesota Cavalry Regiment during the Dakota Wars and was part of a detachment that made it as far as North Dakota where he fought at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain on July 28, 1864.

While the brief histories of Frazer and Crispin are an interesting tidbit of local history, they also brought to mind an important reminder for Memorial Day.

Not Every Battle or Soldier is Known

At prominent cemeteries such as Arlington or Gettysburg in the U.S., as well as those in Normandy and Manila in the Philippines, memorials will be held to honor all those members of the U.S. Armed Forces who fell in service to their country across the nation and the globe. In my home state, a ceremony and parade will be held at Fort Snelling National Cemetery where my father and five of my uncles are buried. In each of these consecrated places, the rows upon rows of white crosses and tombstones offer a vivid reminder of the sheer number of soldiers who fought and died on behalf of their country.

In the same way that most of us are aware of these major cemeteries, we are also aware of the famous historic battles where so many of these men fell. From Yorktown to Gettysburg, from the Meuse-Argonne to Normandy, from the Chosin Reservoir to Khe Sanh and from Fallujah, or Tora Bora, these names resonate with most Americans with a passing knowledge of our nation’s history. 

However, what the two white veteran tombstones of Frazer and Crispin at the St. Louis cemetery reminded me of was that in our nation’s 247-year history, America has fought in numerous undeclared wars or military actions. Battles whose names we may not remember (let alone ever learn) and were fought by men whose names may never make it into history books or are inscribed on war memorials.

Some were fought in faraway places like the Barbary Wars (1815-1816) in North Africa, the Moro War (1899-1913) in the Philippines, the “Banana Wars” (1898-1934) in Central America and the Caribbean, the 1958 Lebanon Crisis, the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980’s, the Battle of Mogadishu (1993), as well as various other military actions in Iraq and Yugoslavia during the 1990s and right up into today with the death of three American soldiers in Tower 22 in Jordan.

Others were closer to home, such as the countless battles fought by the United States Army against the Native Americans from our nation’s founding right up into the 20th century or even America’s foray into Mexico, led by Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing to hunt down Pancho Villa and his forces (1916-17).

While we may look back at many of those conflicts with a far more jaded eye, the fact remains that they were fought by American soldiers who did what most of us don’t and donned the uniform to serve and protect our nation. Some of these men may have enlisted out of patriotism, and to be fair some were drafted or were just looking for a job with three squares and regular paycheck.

Nevertheless, they were our fellow countrymen who were someone’s sibling, parent or loved one who fought and died far away from their homes and families. Some of them came home in a flag-draped coffin, while others did not as they were missing in action or lost at sea. Their names and the places where they were killed may be forgotten, but their lives and service should not.

So if you are so inclined, if you are not going to some memorial service or visiting a cemetery, then please take a moment of silence to give thought to the sacrifices made by all those whom we honor today. If your faith tradition allows, by all means say prayers on behalf of the dead (today and always). This is something that is part of my own Catholic tradition (2 Mac 12:43-46) but is something that should be done by all Christians. Aside from it being a “holy and pious” act of charity towards our fellow man, a good case can be made that our prayers transcend time and thus can provide spiritual succor to those who we honor today.

Thus while not every war or battle our nation has fought may have been just, we should always hope and pray that our soldiers warred justly, in that they endeavor to live up to our nation’s highest ideals. After all, living as we do in a nation of relative freedom, peace, and prosperity it is easy for us to forget or never know that in many parts of the world, barbarism is (as it has and always will be) the norm. Where weakness is seen as an invitation to be subdued and where respect and deference is only garnered through strength of arms.

It is those whom we honor and pray for today whose shoulders carried the weight of our saftey and freedom while fighting off the evils borne of fallen man, so that we may live peaceable lives.


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