POMEROY — It became the #MemorialDayChallenge that went “viral” around the county in 2014, although that was never the intent.
Sgt. Major Jim Freeman explained his Memorial Day story, reading from that post he wrote on Memorial Day 2014, during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony hosted by American Legion Post 39 at the Pomeroy levee.
“On a small hill across the road from my house there is a tiny family cemetery that seems out of place among the woods there. One of the stones stands conspicuously tall, the name on the bottom is Swearingen and it reads ‘In memory of James…died at Memphis Tenn., Sept. 24, 1863, aged 20 years, 11 months, 25 days.’”
Freeman said that his research showed the 63rd regiment which Swearingen was part of originated in southeastern Ohio in the fall of 1861.
“James joined as a private on Dec. 3 that year and was later appointed as a sergeant. I could not find anything else about him, including his final resting place,” said Freeman. “Could his body be one of those many ‘Unknown’ at the Memphis National Cemetery? Did he die of wounds suffered in a battle, or as a sick young man far away from his loving family?”
Freeman reflected on Swearingen, a man who at the time of his death in service was younger than Freeman’s own children.
“Perhaps he and his family lived in the same location where our house is located now, and the family chose that location across the road for a small cemetery so they could look out across the valley and remember their son. Most likely they couldn’t afford to have his remains embalmed and returned home, so they had this stone made and erected in his memory. Perhaps he too loved this little valley and wanted only to return home some day after the fighting was over, to resume his life. He never got that chance, like many he was taken far too young in a war not of his making, and all that remains of his existence are some notions in old rosters and fading words on a stone forgotten in the woods,” said Freeman.
“But I remember, and you are not forgotten,” said Freeman or his promise to keep Swearingen’s memory alive.
It is in that location, at the stone of Swearingen, that Freeman can reflect on the meaning of sacrifice.
When Freeman made that original post in 2014, it inspired many others to find the graves of long forgotten soldiers, placing flowers or flags on them, or even going to the grave sites and playing Taps as some have done this year.
“Nothing is stopping you from adopting a fallen hero,” Freeman told those at the Memorial Day ceremony.
Freeman also explained that not all casualties of war occur on the battlefield, and that not all injuries sustained in war can be seen.
A sergeant whom Freeman had served with recently took his life, Freeman told the crowd. Soldiers come home from war wounded in different ways, and there can be complication. Despite a large, close family and the support of his fellow soldiers, the demons were too strong for the soldier, explained Freeman.
In 2014, Freeman said, there were an average of 20 soldiers a day who took their own lives, accounting for approximately 18 percent of all suicides.
“War’s mortally wounded walk among us today,” said Freeman. Whether from cancers or other illnesses related to the elements they were exposed to in war, post traumatic stress or other injuries, they are casualties, he explained.
“These are casualties, they just take a little longer to fall,” said Freeman.
Freeman encouraged those in attendance to visit some of the nation’s battlefields, find a quiet place and reflect on what took place at the site, listening not only with your ears, but listening with your soul.
In addition to Freeman, speakers included Gladys Cummings who read “Flander’s Field” and Jerry Frederick, who told of the Old Ragged Flag.
Legion member Dan Arnold placed a wreath in the river in remembrance of Naval service members killed in service.