Honoring Unsung Heroes: Memorial Day Reflections on Forgotten Battles and Soldiers

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During the challenging times of 2021, I was fortunate to reside in a state with relatively lenient shelter-in-place orders. Being someone who dislikes idleness, I began taking road or bike trips, often with my kids, to explore the more rural areas outside the Twin Cities. On these journeys, I would take the time to admire local attractions such as scenic spots, monuments, churches, and cemeteries. Some of these cemeteries were roadside, while others were located in vast fields or hidden away in forests, discovered by chance while riding on hunter’s trails. Almost all were established before Minnesota became a state.

One such cemetery I visited was the St. Louis Cemetery, situated next to a crop field in Wheatland Township, established in 1860. At its entrance, a sign recounted the history of the cemetery and highlighted two notable individuals buried there.

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

While the brief histories of Frazer and Crispin are intriguing pieces of local history, they also serve as a poignant 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 honor all U.S. Armed Forces members who died in service to their country. In my home state, a ceremony and parade will be held at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where my father and five uncles are buried. These consecrated places, with their rows of white crosses and tombstones, starkly remind us of the many soldiers who fought and died for their country.

Just as we’re aware of these notable cemeteries, we also recognize the historic battles where 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 to Tora Bora, these names resonate with most Americans familiar with our nation’s history.

However, the two white veteran tombstones of Frazer and Crispin at the St. Louis cemetery reminded me that in our nation’s 247-year history, America has engaged in numerous undeclared wars or military actions. These battles, often forgotten or never learned, were fought by men whose names might never make it into history books or be inscribed on war memorials.

Some battles took place in distant locations, 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 1980s, the Battle of Mogadishu (1993), along with various other military actions in Iraq and Yugoslavia during the 1990s, continuing to today with the deaths of three American soldiers in Tower 22 in Jordan.

Other conflicts occurred closer to home, such as the countless battles fought by the U.S. Army against Native Americans from the nation’s founding into the 20th century, or 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 now view many of these conflicts with a more critical eye, the reality is they were fought by American soldiers who did what most of us don’t—donned the uniform to serve and protect our nation. Some enlisted out of patriotism; others were drafted or were simply seeking stable employment.

Nevertheless, these soldiers were our compatriots, someone’s sibling, parent, or loved one who fought and died far from home. Some returned in flag-draped coffins, while others were missing in action or lost at sea. Their names and the places they died may be forgotten, but their lives and service should not be.

If you can, take a moment of silence to reflect on the sacrifices made by all those we honor today. If your faith tradition allows, say prayers on behalf of the deceased (today and always). This practice, part of my own Catholic tradition (2 Mac 12:43-46), should be embraced by all Christians. Besides being an act of charity, a compelling argument exists that our prayers can transcend time and provide spiritual solace to those we honor.

Though not every war our nation has fought may have been just, we should always hope and pray that our soldiers waged them justly, striving to uphold our nation’s highest ideals. Living in a nation of relative freedom, peace, and prosperity can make us forget or never realize that in many parts of the world, barbarism is the norm. Weakness invites subjugation, and only strength of arms garners respect and deference.

It is those we honor and pray for today whose shoulders bore the weight of our safety and freedom, fighting against the evils of fallen humanity so that we may live peaceful lives.

J. Antonio Juarez
J. Antonio Juarez
Contributor. J. Antonio Juarez is a Senior Editor at The Everyman Commentary, part-time freelance writer and short-story author. He holds a B.A. in theology from the University of St. Thomas, and his articles have been featured in The Everyman Commentary and The Maccabee Society.

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