South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In rememberance, Memorial Day 2012

( Going a little off  blog topic today....)

To most people, the last Monday in May is the "unofficial" beginning of the summer season with barbeques, picnics, and swimming pool's finally opening. But, Memorial Day is a day to honor those that serve or have served and their sacrifices, but also those who, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, gave the "last full measure of devotion." It is a day to visit local and national cemeteries to, in body and mind, say thank you to those who gave the most precious of things, their very lives, so that we can have the freedom to do the things that we get to do.

While this blog primarily deals with the fighting that occurred at South Mountain, I feel the need to share an experience me and my wife had a couple years ago on a field trip I was on for a World War II course I was taking in college. We were in Arlington National Cemetery, visiting the grave sites of well-known soldiers from that conflict (Audie Murphy, John Basilone,etc.) and as we concluded that trip, my professor wanted to take us to the grave site of summer intern that had participated in a summer fellowship and  had been killed in Iraq. We got to the section where the student was buried and our professor, an army veteran, had several students fan out to search for the stone. While this was going on, me and my wife noticed a lone soldier first standing, then kneeling at a headstone just yards away from where my classmates were searching for the intern's grave.

Shockingly, my classmates began yelling across to each other if they had found the interns grave, all the while this lone soldier is still, I assume , at dear friends grave. Me and my wife (her brother his serving in the Maryland National Guard and several of his friends that he made during his time in the guard are buried in or near the very section we are standing at), decide that we will just hang back and not be as disrespectful as my fellow classmates were being. They find the grave site and gather around so my professor can tell the intern's story. At this time, the lone soldier stood up, gave a salute, and began walking towards me and my wife. As the soldier came near where we were standing, he glanced up and we made eye contact and I could see the hurt in his eyes. At that moment, I gained a vastly better understanding of what places like our national cemeteries or the graves of soldiers in their hometown cemeteries. It wasn't just a place we could come, visit some famous persons grave, but a place where, we as Americans, should take a moment and ,as one stares over the row upon row of white markers, take count of what these men and women gave so that we could have our barbeques, picnics, and swim parties. While we are here in the safety of our homes, these men and women were putting their lives on the line for us. To that unknown soldier and all those that have fallen, Thank you.

 This gentleman is Corporal Kenneth Lee Ridge from Hagerstown, Maryland. At the age of 20, he found himself fighting in Company M, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division on the Korean Peninsula in 1950 as US and UN forces pushed back the North Korean Army. By December, Corporal Ridge found himself with his unit in the Chosin Reservoir fighting not against the North Korean's, but Chinese forces that had crossed the Yalu River into North Korea as a result of Allied forces being so close to their borders.  The savage fighting and weather took a toll on Ridge and he eventually would find himself wounded as US forces began to evacuate the area. Taking his place on a troop transport, as the story has been told to his family, a more severely wounded soldier came to the truck and Corporal Ridge voluntarily gave up his place, and ride to safety, to this soldier stating that he could walk. That was the last anyone saw Corporal Ridge. He was reported Missing in Action on December 12, 1950 and presumed dead on December 31, 1953. It is believe his remains are somewhere in North Korea near Chosin.

This soldiers story is of particular interest to me because he is my wife's Great Uncle. Her grandmother, Corporal Ridge's sister, tells that story that her parents remained at their home on West Side Avenue in Hagerstown for years after their son went missing in the hope that he would find his way home. A meeting that would never take place. The family has barely gotten closure for the loss of Corporal Ridge. Each time remains  are recovered and brought home for DNA testing, my wife's grandmother and sister hope against hope that their brother has finally made it home. Despite not having this sense of closure, he has a marker in Rose Hill Cemetery, next to his parents and, as a last request of a sister who only recently passed away, a short memorial service was held in his memory but no military funeral is planned (according to US Army policy, until a death is confirmed, no military funeral will take place).  I do hope and pray that one day, his remains finally do make it home and the family can get closure.

Now that I have posted this, I would like to wish everyone a save and enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend.

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